The Visitor

The Visitor

(2008)

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.

Flicks Review

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.


The Peoples' Reviews

Average ratings from 3 ratings, 3 reviews
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An wonderful movie that had me both laughing and crying. An excellent portrayal of the treatment of failed asylum seekers.


BY Brian1 superstar

An interesting story with about the right amounts of tension, suspense and "I wonder what the next move is", but a bit slow moving to start with.


Nice little character-based movie. Not enough of these. Richard Jenkins is absolutely great as Walter. One of the best performances of 2008. Well done, Richard.


The Press Reviews

89% of critics recommend.
Rotten Tomatoes Score. More reviews on Rotten Tomatoes

  • A combination immigrant/resurrection tale, Visitor tilts toward the soulful rather than the political, and could be this year's humanistic indie hit. Full Review

  • McCarthy unquestionably means well, but he's made one of those incredibly naïve movies that gives liberals a bad name, and which does more to regress the sociopolitical discourse than advance it. Full Review