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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

The Visitor

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Judy Thorburn

"The Visitor" - Travels an Emotionally Rewarding Road

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"THE VISITOR" - TRAVELS AN EMOTIONALLY REWARDING ROAD

Flick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha Chemplavil

After his impressive directorial debut with his 2003 indie hit, The Station Agent, filmmaker Tom McCarthy proves he is a force to be reckoned with. Here, helming his second film, the writer/director delivers another poignant flick about the human condition with a storyline that also takes a critical look at our government’s treatment of illegal immigrants in post 911 America.

Although the Academy tends to overlook earlier in the year performances, veteran character actor Richard Jenkins (he played the deceased father in 6 Feet Under), in his first leading role, gives a restrained and moving performance that should be remembered when the ballots go out at the end of 2008.

The bespectacled and balding sixtieth Jenkins plays Walter Vale, a Connecticut economics professor who goes about his daily routines as a broken, disconnected man since the his wife, a classical pianist, died. Vale seems to have lost his passion for his work that includes teaching and writing and instead is floundering through life. Even attempts in learning to play the piano as a comforting mechanism, proves disappointing. But things change when the lonely professor is sent to Manhattan to present a paper at a conference. Upon entering his rarely visited New York City apartment, Vale is shocked to find a couple of young foreigners, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) from Syria and his Senegalese girlfriend Zainab (Danai Gurira) living there as innocent victims of a con man who rented them the place under false pretense.

When it becomes clear that the couple has no place to go and would be left out in the cold, the guarded Vale shows some kindness and invites them to share his apartment which brings about unexpected consequences. It all starts when Tarek, an accomplished musician on the African drum delivers rhythmic beats on the instrument that grabs Vale’s attention and stirs some life in the saddened professor. Tarek begins to teach the older man how to play the drum and soon a bond and friendship develops between the two that transcends age and cultural differences.

Just when things are running smoothly, Tarek is arrested for a misunderstood subway incident. Tarek’s status as an illegal immigrant comes into play, and as a result he is sent to a detention center in Queens where the threat of being deported back to his homeland is evident. Since Zainab is also illegal she cannot risk visiting her incarcerated boyfriend; so Vale takes it upon himself to be Tarek’s advocate. He hires an attorney and does whatever he can to keep Tarek from being deported but finds himself up against a wall of an unfair and unyielding political bureaucracy.

Meanwhile Tarek’s mother, Moana (Israeli actress Hiam Abbass) who has been living in Michigan, is worried that she hasn’t heard from her son in days, and arrives in New York, a move that adds another twist to the story. Drawn by their mutual quest to set Tarek free, Vale and the lovely woman are drawn closer together in this well written script that doesn’t stoop to gratuitous sex scenes but quietly shows Vale’s passion, that has long been repressed, slowly being awakened in tender, heart rendering scenes.

Like his first film McCarthy’s running theme is the importance of human connections in a world that can be alien, both literally and figuratively. With The Visitor the filmmaker delivers a sensitive character study of one man, whose connection with strangers allows him to break out of his self imposed shell and find a purpose and meaning in his life. McCarthy also makes a point of showing a parallel between Vale’s initial human detachment and post 911 America. The biased and sympathetic stand on illegal immigrants who are breaking the law is another issue altogether and, as such, the comparison is unjust.

However, there is no argument that McCarthy delivers a poignant film with wonderful performances by Jenkins and his supporting cast. In spite of its bleeding heart political stand, the Visitor makes its theatrical entrance as an unforgettable, welcome character drama.