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Stranger In A Strange Land
by Scott Tunstall

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A man and his drum.

A man and his drum.
I've been a Richard Jenkins fan since 1996's FLIRTING WITH DISASTER. He played a gay FBI agent in David O. Russell's oddball comedy, and with assistance from Josh Brolin, stole the movie. The quintessential character actor, Jenkins landed perhaps his meatiest role in HBO's Six Feet Under, playing the dead patriarch of the Fisher family. It doesn't seem like Jenkins has trouble finding work; IMDB lists five upcoming films over the next two years. Most movie-goers likely didn't learn about him until his Best Actor Oscar nomination for THE VISITOR. His compelling performance isn't the only reason to see this little seen gem from 2007.


Jenkins plays Professor Walter Vale, a lonely widower teaching at a Connecticut University. Set in his ways, Walter isn't too fond of venturing outside his comfort zone. This all changes after he's sent to New York City to present a paper he co-authored. Upon arriving at his seldom used Big Apple apartment, he discovers the place has been rented to an illegal immigrant young couple,
Good times.

Good times.
Tarek and Zainab. Once the situation is cleared up, Tarek and Zainab pack their bags and bolt. Feeling guilty for giving them the boot, Walter invites them back to stay until they find other arrangements.

Walter and Tarek soon form an unlikely bond, as Tarek teaches Walter to play the drums. The good times come to an abrupt end once Tarek is incarcerated by Immigration and held in a Brooklyn detention center. Tarek's mother Mouna arrives to help her imprisoned son. Walter takes an immediate liking to her as they attempt to free Tarek before he's deported to Syria. His romantic feelings for Mouna contrast with his growing rage over the treatment of his friend. Helpless to do anything, Walter must come to terms with the real injustices of life.

Writer/Director Tom McCarthy creates a nuanced story chock-full of real emotion. Walter has been sleepwalking all his days until he comes face-to-face with friendship and love. The suddenness in which life can change is the real lesson here. The paths of McCarthy's characters are altered significantly throughout the 
Not so good times.

Not so good times.
film. His choices for Walter, Tarek and Mouna all ring true as he wisely eschews the standard conventions of Hollywood drama. McCarthy could have gone several different directions with the plot. He chose the one that makes the most sense. It may not include the tidy ending audiences seek, but it is the correct conclusion to a very sad, yet enlightening movie.

Jenkins is perfectly cast as Walter. As staid as he appears, it is his willingness and eagerness to broaden his horizons that make him so appealing. Character evolution is vital in personal dramas and Walter's evolution is one to behold and admire. Haaz Sleiman as Tarek and Hiam Abbass as Mouna provide excellent support. Watching the free-spirited Tarek unravel behind bars is frustrating and uncomfortable. Abbass plays Mouna as a reserved, together woman who will sacrifice herself completely for her son. The unconditional love she displays is incredibly endearing. THE VISITOR is another exceptional film that eluded audiences two years ago. Make right a wrong and see this powerful story of love and loss.

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Eye On The Overlooked
Every other Sunday

A lot of great movies slip through the cracks. I'm here to catch them.

Other Columns
Other columns by Scott Tunstall:

High School Can Be Murder

A Wolf In Girl's Clothing

Southern Hospitality

Ten Great Films From the 2000s

Down With The System

All Columns

Scott Tunstall
Scott is a freelance writer currently living in the Southeast. He is a film school grad with a love of theory and screenwriting. His tastes vary from obscure niche films to giant Hollywood blockbusters. In other words, he'll watch pretty much anything.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Scott Tunstall by clicking here.

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