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At 62, widower Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) has lost his passion for teaching and writing, and fills the void by unsuccessfully trying to learn to play classical piano. When his Connecticut college sends him to a Manhattan conference, Walter is surprised to find a young couple has taken up residence in his little used apartment. Victims of a real estate scam, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), a Syrian man, and Zainab (Danai Gurira), his Senegalese girlfriend, have nowhere else to go and Walter reluctantly allows the couple to stay. Touched by his kindness, Tarek, a talented musician, teaches the aging academic to play the African drum. But when Tarek is arrested as an undocumented citizen and held for deportation, Walter finds himself compelled to help his new friend with a passion he thought he had long ago lost. Then Tarek's mother Mouna (Hiam Abbass) arrives unexpectedly from interstate in search of her son.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
We are so used to political messages in American films about foreigners that it is hard to avoid starting to reading each film as a political statement. In The Visitor, Tom McCarthy's story has lots of political implications but it's ultimately about humanity, not American politics. Of course, by nature of the subject matter, there are references to US society's changed attitudes to illegal migrants. Yet McCarthy avoids the obvious and explores a personal adventure in this conflicted world, through his central character, Walter (Richard Jenkins).

There are so many excellent observations in the screenplay, and so many subtleties in the finished film that the end result is surprisingly gentle, smooth and endearingly positive. This, too, is an aberration in times of an angry world. But that doesn't mean it's a film of meaningless shallowness. Walter's journey from aimless, burnt out professor to a vibrant, emotionally active man carries with it the price of pain. And this is where as a writer, McCarthy earns our respect.

Beautifully cast and superbly performed, The Visitor never steps off the mark either emotionally or in character development. Richard Jenkins, usually in support roles, rises to the lead occasion with grace and a marvellously restrained performance. Both the youngsters, Haaz Sleiman and Danai Gurira, who play illegal migrants from Syria and Senegal respectively, are outstanding, as is the lovely Hiam Abbass, playing the young man's worried mother. Music plays a key role in exploring the different worlds of Walter and Tarek; Walter's classical piano lessons (never very successful) give way to African drum lessons from Terak. And this is how Walter finally releases his newfound passions.

The story avoids a fake resolution of happily ever after, and the details of the migration case are credible and told with economy. A thought provoking and heart warming story about people crossing paths and finding compassion in each other, The Visitor is (despite its partially sad resolution) an uplifting film for all the right reasons. For one thing, it shows us an American who is willing to reach out to people well outside his socio-demographic circle and grow as a result of the exchange.

DVD special features include trailer and image gallery.

Published December 4, 2008

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(US, 2007)

CAST: Richard Jenkins, Hiam Abass, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira, Marian Seldes, Maggie Moore, Michael Cumpsty, Bill McHenry, Richard Kind,

PRODUCER: Michael London, Mary Jane Skalski, Jeff Skoll

DIRECTOR: Thomas McCarthy

SCRIPT: Thomas McCarthy


EDITOR: Tom McArdle

MUSIC: Jan A. P. Kaczmarek

RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes



PRESENTATION: 16x9 Anamorphic and in Dolby Digital 5.1.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Trailer, image gallery


DVD RELEASE: December 3, 2008

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