2 May 2008 | laraemeadows
The Visitor strings together unlikely events in the lives of a professor and his visitors. Remarkably sincere and touching, the unimaginable events feel natural.
Awkward Connecticut economics professor Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) has essentially checked out from his job, his personality and his life. Walter is forced by circumstance to return to his abandoned New York City apartment. When he returns he meets Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and Zainab (Danai Jekesai Gurira), who have taken up unauthorized residence in his apartment. Tarek and Zainab teach Walter to live again, to come out of his shell and remind him how unfair life can be.
Writer and director Thomas McCarthy wrote all of the characters in The Visitor with almost contradictory personality attributes which gives them each a complex humanity.
McCarthy wrote Walter Vale painfully dull and bumbling but it was Richard Jenkins who also makes Walter charming and heart breaking. In nearly every setting, Jenkins both makes the audience scrunch their faces at Walter's social inadequacies while simultaneously bringing out our Florence Nightingale instincts. As Walter changes in the course The Visitor, Jenkins keeps the essential qualities of Walter but changes him in surprising ways.
The supporting cast isn't any less remarkable in The Visitor. There is a master of life, a vision of unabashed sadness and an embodiment of sensual motherly warmth. Haaz Sleiman, who plays Tarek, is (damn foxy) full of life as Tarek. His esprit fills Tarek, the audience, the other characters and actors with such vitality. Danai Jekesai Guria plays Zainab, Tarek's girlfriend. So much of Zainab is forlorn despondent dejection. Rich with beautiful hardness and unnaturally attractive pain, Danai Jekesai Guria made Zainab so hard to watch but impossible to pull your eyes away from. Hiam Abbass plays Mouna, Tarek's mother. Her fear is palpable but she never loses her intangible sensuality.
The most remarkable part of The Visitor is the way it organically shows the way life can change un-expectantly, unfairly and without warning and does it with real, raw emotion. Just when you think you've figured out what the movie is about, you slapped with a new reality. It is frightening, timely and angering. Even the ending, which is not the typical movie ending, is emotive in a subtle and realistic way. I was not overwhelmed or underwhelmed by the movie, I was perfectly whelmed; a task indeed.
The pacing is the one complaint I have with The Visitor. The editing could have been much better. There are beautiful scenes sometimes drawn out to boredom. Scenes that were the actors' timing is slightly off are only highlighted by the shoddy editing. The Visitor is an artsy movie but Tom McArdle checked out completely in a few of the scenes.
Slow bits aside, The Visitor is a rewarding film with rich characters, beautiful acting and complexities that might make those people who are quick to tears, cry.