From the writer/director of 2003's The Station Agent. Economics professor Walter Vale (the fantastic Richard Jenkins) is the shy, disillusioned male at the centre of Thomas McCarthy's ensemble piece, who returns to his New York apartment after a long absence to find it occupied by a couple of illegal immigrants. Convivial Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) is a talented drummer who encourages Walter out of his protective shell, while his prickly girlfriend Zainab (Danai Gurira) carries the burden of their perilous citizenship status.
Each learns something new from the other, but just when you think you have this film pinned, it takes off in an unexpected direction.
BY Andreas Heinemann Flicks Writer
Widowed college professor Walter Vale leads an aimless, unsatisfied life until he becomes embroiled in the lives of an immigrant couple living in New York City. They fill his life with renewed energy and purpose, largely through music, before an encounter with post 9/11 immigration policies intensifies the relationship and tests their newly forged connection.
Although the story is structured around the rebirth of Walter's spirit, it spends a big chunk of screen time meditating on the realities of American immigration policy. Unfortunately, this subject is a bulky one and director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent) can't always find the best way to get his message across. Since his attempted use of humanist, apolitical storytelling methods are actually a veneer for liberal ideology, some of the attempts to pluck on the heartstrings can seem insincere. It's an approach with good intentions, but seems to neutralise his potential to make the political points he clearly wants to. At times, the immigration system seems to be portrayed with a Kafka-esque bent that is a much more effective critique than some of the heavy handed symbolism employed elsewhere.
The sub-text of social musings keeps the pace at a gentle, contemplative rate. While at times it stretches scenes a little too far, the approach allows ample screen time for the cast to carve out rich, rounded characters. The acting of the principle figures really is the highlight of this film, particularly Richard Jenkins as Walter. If only the focus was more on him and less on immigration policies. Instead, The Visitor is a well acted, well meaning film that ends up chasing its tail when it wanders into political territory.