The Visitor (2007) Feb 19, 2020 21:40:37 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Feb 19, 2020 21:40:37 GMT -5
The Visitor (2007)
Directed by: Tom McCarthy
Directed by: Tom McCarthy
Richard Jenkins and Haaz Sleiman.
NOTE: This film was recommended to me by Tim D. for "Steve Pulaski Sees It," a yearly event where I take recommendations from readers.
Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) is an economics professor, living alone in Connecticut. His wife, an accomplished musician, died and ostensibly took all her husband's joy with her when she did. He teaches one class at the state college and barely succeeds at that; an early scene shows him rejecting a student's late assignment, due to personal reasons, and doesn't even care to hear the reasoning.
He's summoned to New York one day to present a paper he co-authored (in name only), and when he enters his seldom used apartment, he finds something unexpected. Two squatters, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), from Syria, and his girlfriend Zainab (Danai Gurira), from Senegal, have moved in, and Walter catches Zainab in the bathtub. After the rush of shock and embarrassment subsides, Walter invites them both to stay until they can find a pad of their own. Zainab keeps her distance, but the loquacious Tarek can't help but befriend the man who has graciously offered his apartment to them. Tarek is a simple soul, not too much unlike Walter when he was younger, we can infer. He wants to play his African drums and live a comfortable life with the woman of his dreams.
Just as Tarek begins to give Walter drum lessons, spicing up the widower's lonely existence, a minor infraction lands him in prison. Both Tarek and Zainab are in the United States illegally, and Tarek's imprisonment could mean deportation. Walter hires an immigration attorney, and soon after, Tarek's mom Mouna (Hiam Abbass) flies in from Michigan in order to help the process, and overtime, Walter too.
In less tender hands, and without the depth of introspection that permits even a casual viewer to adjust to the film's quiet rhythms, I would've probably been snarky and billed The Visitor as another one of those tired dramas that shows American audiences, once again, that minorities and immigrants are actually capable of being decent human beings. Writer/director Tom McCarthy brings his typically pleasant brand of humanism to the story, and does something many screenwriters are fearful of doing: he lets scenes breathe and things go unsaid. The characters in The Visitor don't always say what's on their mind. Walter doesn't have a lengthy monologue outlining the hurt that's been growing inside of him since his wife's death, nor does Zainab think to say the first thing on her mind, especially when initially adjusting to Walter's slightly peculiar nature. Like real adults, they internalize many of their emotions and go about their day. An early scene shows Walter stumbling upon two street performers making music from drumsticks and large buckets. He initially watches in confusion but then slowly bobs his head to the beat. No need for over-explaining there.
The Visitor is about a lot more, however. A film that's unfortunately aged well in terms of pointing out the rampant unfairness in the United States' immigration process and the wealthy bureaucrats who benefit from the incarcerated, it shows two innocent parties trying to obtain their slice of American life. The most affecting relationship is that of Walter and Mouna, which progresses not like one in a romance drama, but one of mutual support and sympathy. Similar to Walter, Mouna is not the kind to show her emotions easily, but she understands why Walter would want to take her on a nice dinner one evening. Meanwhile, Walter knows what it means when Mouna wanders into his bedroom one night simply to be consoled. McCarthy is careful in these moments and doesn't burden them by having his protagonists insist on filling the air with dialog. It's the lingering stretches of silence that make The Visitor a cerebral drama that invites you to think and feel.
Much of this wouldn't matter if the acting wasn't so strong. Richard Jenkins, in a rare leading role, is an actor whose name likely doesn't cross your mind as often as it should, which is understandable. His legion of supporting performances often leave him overshadowed by bigger names. He functions splendidly on a stage all his own, with a difficult character whose life is stuck in neutral. Veteran actress Hiam Abbass holds her own as well, letting mannerisms define Mouna in a humble, beautiful manner.
Where the film tends to overplay its hand is through excessive foreshadowing, such as focusing on a "bring our troops home" sign on an overpass, or Jan A. P. Kaczmarek's occasionally maudlin score, which risks undermining the soft approach. McCarthy's films tend to have a bit too much of that (see his later works such as The Cobbler, or even the Oscar-winning Spotlight for further confirmation), but the strengths of his screenplays and his ability to craft dense characters isn't undermined whatsoever. The Visitor grants us a window of empathy for two young immigrants, and gracefully follows a man whose actions speak louder than his words. It's a lovely picture that shows us a film can wear its heart on its sleeve without asking it to bleed so often.
Starring: Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira, and Hiam Abbass. Directed by: Tom McCarthy.