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:: The Visitor

The Visitor is written and directed by Thomas McCarthy. The film stars Richard Jenkins as a widowed Connecticut college professor Walter Vale. He seems content to live out the rest of his time doing the minimum amount of work. His boss forces him to attend a conference in Manhattan and he takes the opportunity to stay in an apartment that he rents in New York, only to find that the landlord has rented it out to Syrian musician Tarek ( Haaz Sleiman) and his girlfriend Zainab (Danai Gurira), an artist from Senegal.

Walter has recently led a miserable life because his wife, a classical pianist, passed away and he has a constant long face and is unmotivated in his work. It is quite a tender and delicate scene when Tarek and Zainab apoologise for taking up residence in Walter’s flat, yet we see them remain because Walter changes his mind and allows them to stay. Soon after, a special bond develops as Walter sees these two young people reinvigorate his existence. With Tarek owning his own African drum and playing in the nearby Central Park, Walter suddenly becomes a student of rhythm. He soon gets involved in the group of drummers who regularly get together for a drumming session. This all happens simply and effectively as a white man “discovering his soul”. It would never have happened in Walter’s life before meeting Tarek.

Then, in signifying this post-September 11 environment of secretive immigration policies, the story takes a deep, emotional curve. Tarek is topped by police in a subway and arrested as an illegal immigrant – held for deportation. The quietly spoken professor then becomes Tarek’s champion. The arrival of Tarek’s mother (Hiam Abbass) makes matters complicated even further. Walter strives to take care of her and doing everything he can for Tarek.

Abbass is terrific, never overplaying the stoic immigrant role. She is thoughtful and level-headed, despite the wound of her son’s detainment. Jenkins displays a sensitive performance in his first major leading role. His thrilling time in playing African drums and taking an interest in the immigrant couple reverses his previous bleak day-to-day life. He seizes the opportunity, creating a complex character that re-emerges with a new sense of purpose.

McCarthy’s work is extremely good. His script is laced with gentle humour throughout, whilst exploring the political themes of detention. The viewer is engaged into becoming deeply involved in the journey of all the characters. The film is highly recommended.