May 15, 2008 by  

The Visitor


The Visitor

Richard Jenkins and Haaz Sleiman star in Thomas McCarthy's "The Visitor."

Starring: Richard Jenkins, Hiam Abbass, Haaz Sleiman
Directed by: Thomas McCarthy (“The Station Agent”)
Written by: Thomas McCarthy (“The Station Agent”)

In the very first lead role of his entire 30-plus-year career as a supporting actor, Richard Jenkins has made heads turn in astonishment with “The Visitor.” Sure, it’s May but Jenkins has displayed the best performance of any actor since the start of the year with his passionate and dramatic turn.

In “The Visitor,” Jenkins is Walter Vale, a lonely economics professor living and working at a college in Connecticut. When the department chair asks Walter, who has become apathetic over the years as a teacher, to go to New York City for a conference, Walter grudgingly accepts the idea of having to sit through lectures for an entire weekend.

He will, however, get to go back to the apartment he owns in the West Village, a place he gets to rarely visit. But when Walter enters his flat, he surprises an immigrant couple who have been conned into believing Walter’s apartment is available for rent.

With nowhere to go Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), who is from Syria, and his girlfriend Zainab (Danai Jakesai Gurira), who is from the Senegal, take their belongings and stand aimlessly on the sidewalks of New York for a while before Walter tells them they can stay with him until they get on their feet.

To pay Walter back for his kindness, Tarek, who notices that Walter is intrigued by his djimbe African drum, begins to teach him how to play the instrument. The bond between Walter and the couple grows as their cultures reveal both the differences and similarities of strangers from opposite sides of the world.

When Tarek is arrested for a misunderstanding in the subway, everyone’s lives come go a standstill as Tarek is placed in a security facility to await deportation. While there, Walter makes all efforts to help the couple find an immigration lawyer and allows Tarek’s mother, Mouna (Hiam Abbass), to stay with him until they find a way to get her son out of confinement.

Directed and written by Thomas McCarthy, whose last film was the fantastic “The Station Agent” in 2003, “The Visitor” is a beautifully constructed albeit small film that shouldn’t go unnoticed. Jenkins delivers an Oscar-worthy performance and McCarthy’s attention to human emotion is impressive.

Grade: A-

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