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The Visitor
3 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Thomas McCarthy

Written By:
Thomas McCarthy

Richard Jenkins, Hiam Abbass, Marian Seldes, Maggie Moore, Michael Cumpsty, Richard Kind, Amir Arison, Ramon Fernandez, Frank Pando, Deborah Rush, Ashley Springer, Yevgeniy Dekhtyar, Danai Jekesai Gurira, Neal Lerner, Waleed Zuaiter, Laith Nakli, Jacqueline Brogan, Earl Baker Jr., Bill McHenry, Walter Mudu, Earl Baker Jr., Walter the Dog, Haaz Sleiman, Tzahi Moskovitz

The Visitor (2008)
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Movie Review by Jarrod
April 14th, 2008

'The Visitor' is an extraordinary film, able to captivate an audience with its simplicity and humanity. It stars the terrific Richard Jenkins as Walter Vale, a widowed college professor still deeply saddened by the death of his beloved wife. He no longer seems to care about anything, especially not his job; but he is called to deliver a paper at a conference in New York, so he leaves his suburban home in Connecticut and flies to the Big Apple, where he has an apartment he rarely stays in. He finds it is occupied by two illegal immigrants, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), from Syria, and Zainab (Danai Gurira), from Senegal. Kindness compels him to let them live there until they can find another place, and he befriends the extremely amicable Tarek. Zainab is not as trusting, it takes her a while to warm up to Walter, and what helps that process along is a shared love of music. Tarek is a musician, and introduces Walter to exotic African drum beats, and Tarek helps Walter overcome his self-imposed introversion, by introducing him to new people and injecting some joy and fun back into his life.

One day, Tarek is arrested because of a minor misunderstanding and winds up in jail, where he faces deportation. Walter gets caught up this, and finds that he must also look after Zainab, who is also scared that she might share Tarek's fate. Not hearing from her son for several days, Tarek's mother Mouna (an outstanding Hiam Abbass) arrives at Walter's door, and they develop a pseudo-romantic relationship. To call it a relationship may be misleading, it is more of a bond, a connection between two people around the same age who have lost their spouses (Mouna's husband was a journalist who was put in prison by Syrian officials because he wrote something they did not approve of) and yearn for some way to fill the emotional void. Both of them also care about Tarek, but Mouna is all but powerless to help him.

The film makes an effective and timely statement about draconian post-9/11 immigration laws, and their impact especially on individuals of Arab descent, victims of unfair and unwarranted racial and religious profiling. But writer-director Tom McCarthy does not overplay this issue, does not go out of his way to make it obvious or to remind us incessantly of it. This is a quiet, low-key drama with lots of warmth and intelligence. Richard Jenkins is incredible. He does not often have leading roles, but shows that he can play them extremely well. He carries this movie from the first scene until the last, though he is surrounded by superb co-stars, especially Abbass and Sleiman. Yes, the plot is fairly predictable, but in a film with acting and writing of this caliber, such a complaint is irrelevant.

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