Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Visitor – Why I Loved This Movie


A deeply moving drama built around longtime character actor Richard Jenkins, The Visitor is a simmering drama about a college professor and recent widower, Walter Vale (Jenkins), who discovers a pair of illegal aliens who were the victims of a real-estate scam living in his New York apartment. After the mix-up is resolved, Vale invites the couple--a young, Syrian musician named Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and his Senegalese girlfriend (Danai Gurira)--to stay with him. An unlikely friendship develops between the retiring, quiet Vale and the vibrant Tarek, and the former begins to loosen up and respond to Tarek's drumming lessons as if something in him waiting to be liberated has finally been unleashed. All goes well until Tarek is hauled in by immigration authorities and threatened with deportation. His mother, Mouna (Hiam Abbass), turns up and stays with Vale, sparking a renewed if subdued interest in courtship. However, the wheels of injustice in immigration crush all manner of hopes in post-9/11 America. Vale soon realizes that he has unexpected anger over Tarek's plight, and the positive changes to his personal life that emerged from a deep involvement with his friend and Mouna might be the only legacy he takes from this experience.”

There are so very many great things to point out about this film, Thomas McCarthy’s direction, the cinematography, the score, the pacing, but the real reason I love this film is Richard Jenkins.

Jenkins, a familiar character actor (he was the dead father on "Six Feet Under"), is the full-fledged centerpiece of a film built around complex characters and subtle moments. His performance is marvelous, a perfect example of a talented actor fully inhabiting his character. Walter is reserved and self-repressed, which in many actors' hands would translate as "boring." But Jenkins makes us love the widowed, directionless Walter; his capstone moment towards the end of the film where he becomes a fountain of passion is so simply written, but Jenkins gives the words layers and layers of history.

The rest of the cast also gives very memorable performances (Abbass’s portrayal of Mouna was such a spiritual endeavour that I just about fell in love with the character) that are sure to keep them on the minds of many for the days to come. I highly recommend this film to anyone and everyone and hope that when awards season rolls on by, this Indie isn’t forgotten among the sea of reformulated studio pulp that usually dominates the season.

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