Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Visitor **

Director: Thomas McCarthy
Cast: Richard Jenkins
Haaz Sleiman, Danai Jekesai Gurira, Hiam Abbass

Richard Jenkins plays Walter Vale a lonely, college Connecticut professor who goes to New York for a conference and discovers Tarek (Sleiman) and Zainab (Gurira), a young couple that has been squatting in his apartment.
After kicking them out, he feels compassion and invites them to stay over until they find a better place to live. In the process he befriends Tarek who is a talented djembe (Syrian drum) player while slowly earning the trust if Zainab.
The young couple gets him out of his rut, until immigration problems arise and Walter must prove his humanity.
For a film that tries so much to keep small proportions, "The Visitor" retains an underlying condescension that makes it more uncomfortable than sweet.
Writer/director McCarthy tries to deliver both a story about second chances and an exposé on the way immigrants are treated in the United States without really backing up his ideas.
It's as if the plot has a backup plan, thinking that if it doesn't work in a certain way, they will always be able to push the other way.
The melting pot that is New York City brings an organic feeling to the movie, but this can't be attributed to the filmmakers but rather to the inevitability to escape the richness brought by the multiculturality of the city.
What can be attributed to the film are the beautiful performances from all the ensemble. Jenkins gives a master class in subtlety and layering. While his professor could've been an eccentric Grinch of sorts, Jenkins knows better and lets him blossom slowly.
The beauty of his performance is that you're never able to detect the moment where his characters turns into something else.
Sleiman is charismatic and irresistible as is Abbass, who plays Tarek's mother in a role whose quiet dignity and class screams "Shoreh Agdashloo".
But at the end the film can't help but feel a bit inconsistent, because someone like Walter, who harbors so much pain and anger, wouldn't have let two immigrants off the hook for living ilegally in his apartment just like that (he didn't even take a late paper from one of his students!), especially not when the film highlights 9/11 paranoia so much.
And then with all of its worldly wisdom, McCarthy can't help but limit his vision and make the film feel like everything happened in order so that the well to do American learnt a lesson.

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