The Visitor (12)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

Review byMatthew Turner20/06/2008

Five out of Five stars
Running time: 103 mins

Emotionally engaging drama from the director of The Station Agent, with a great script and a terrific performance from Richard Jenkins. One of the best films of the year.

What's it all about?
Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy (The Station Agent), The Visitor stars Richard Jenkins as widowed Connecticut college professor Walter Vale, who's content just to wait out his retirement by doing the minimum amount of work. When he's forced to go to Manhattan for a conference, he decides to stay in his empty New York flat, only to find that an opportunistic landlord has rented it out to an immigrant couple: Syrian musician Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and his girlfriend Zainab (Danai Gurira), an artist from Senegal.

Walter agrees to let Tarek and Zainab stay in the spare room and soon forms an unexpectedly strong friendship with Tarek, due to their mutual interest in music. However, when Tarek is detained as an illegal alien, his mother, Mouna (Hiam Abbass), comes looking for him and Walter agrees to do whatever he can to help, especially when it emerges that he's the only one legally allowed to visit Tarek.

The Good
McCarthy's script is laced with gentle humour throughout, while exploring the strongly political themes of detention and immigration from a human angle that we can instantly relate to. Similarly, the characters are extremely well written and we become deeply involved in their journeys. For example, it's heartbreaking to see Tarek gradually lose his open, trusting and joyously optimistic demeanour.

The Great
It's fantastic to see the always-excellent Richard Jenkins in a lead role for once and he seizes the opportunity with both hands, creating a complex and initially difficult character (he's horrible to his students and lies to his colleagues) whose humanity slowly re-emerges thanks to his newfound sense of purpose and his interactions with Tarek and Mouna. There's also strong support from Sleiman, Gurira and Abbass.

Worth seeing?
The Visitor is a superbly written, beautifully acted and thoroughly engaging human drama that is ultimately both deeply moving and unexpectedly romantic. Fantastic final shot too. Highly recommended.

Film Trailer

The Visitor (12)
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Content updated: 18/04/2019 16:05

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