The Visitor

By Gerald Aaron, July 3, 2008
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Writer-director Tom McCarthy follows his 2003 drama The Station Agent with a well-intentioned if sometimes rather too obvious political drama.

Widowed professor Walter Vale’s (Richard Jenkins) unexpected involvement with Syrian Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and his Senegalese girlfriend Mouna (Danai Gurira), whom he finds squatting illegally in his Manhattan apartment, leads him finding a new meaning to his aimless life. The film gains immeasurably from character actor Jenkins’s extraordinary ability to neutralise a frequently clichéd screenplay.

McCarthy uses his story to attack US immigration policy. Tarek is arrested and interned by Inland Security, leaving Vale to fight for him while embarking on a tentative romance with Tarek’s mother, Mouna (Hiam Abbass), which I found both improbable and over-contrived. (I also could not believe that a man of Vale’s sensitivity would subject his date to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera).

Jenkins gives a superb, wry performance, making the most of his character’s gradual metamorphosis from arid academic to warm-hearted human being. He consistently raises the impact of a too-often predictably schematic story although even he cannot make real a final scene, which, while dramatically justifiable, is less believable than a political press release.

    Last updated: 2:59pm, February 18 2011