- some flowers are just funnier than others.
The movie stars Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under) as Walter Vale, a withdrawn, forlorn professor gliding through life in isolated emotional pain. Jenkins (an underrated actor) proves to be absolutely proficient in this role, broadening his range to new heights or in this case, lows. Gone are his usual comedic wise-cracks and/or witty flamboyance.
When Walter is sent from Connecticut to New York City to give a lecture and visits an apartment building he owns, he finds a couple of illegal immigrants, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and Zainab (Danai Gurira) living there. He reluctantly befriends them and his life begins to change. Tarek plays an African conga-drum and entices the prof into giving it a whirl. Next thing we know, Walter's beating the darn thing while wearing his underpants. Soon they are playing in a drum-circle in Washington Square Park. Trouble ensues in a subway when cops apprehend and arrest Tarek for supposedly jumping a turnstile. The rest of the movie is the slow-burn-saga of Walter trying to come to grips with saving someone else's life, therefore saintly redeeming his own. The film's tricky title will provoke discussion as to who's the visitor: Walter charting new territory or Tarek whose immigration status is challenged.
The Visitor provides a good glimpse into the creepy deportation system. The storyline explores terrorism, racism and human nature. But it's really a microscopic study of Walter coming to grips, and he soon becomes neutralized thanks to the people and cultures entering his life. Tarek's mom (Hiam Abbass, in superb performance) befriends Walter in tender scenes that are almost as painful as they are endearing to watch. Their desperate loneliness and gut-wrenching pain are just underneath the surface; scratch them and they will bleed their emotions all over the carpet. In fact, all four main characters possess unruly kindness.
The acting throughout is outstanding, but the dialogue is stilted causing some touching moments to suffer by the drawn out manner in which they're presented, taking you out of the moment. There's too much explaining from the characters to each other of information you've just witnessed onscreen. Sometimes it's so realistic that you can't tell if the long pauses and wooden dialogue are too normal for their own good. Parts of it really got on my nerves. This kind of inane conversation only works in horror movies to create realistic tension when danger lurks. Maybe we're supposed to intellectualize the bleak communications, but I just found it tedious. It's irritating enough to finish people's sentences for them in real life let alone in movies.
Someone finally acknowledges Walter as being very cool, but I think just like this movie, it will depend on your definition of how cool. He definitely gets better. The Visitor is a first-class character study, but I'm not sure how engrossing and compelling it truly is. Throughout the depressing gusts of eye-blinking angst, it's almost too nice and sparse for its own intentions.
Starring Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira, Hiam Abbass. Written and Directed by Tom McCarthy