A visit to re­mem­ber

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews -

THE VIS­I­TOR Di­rected by Tom McCarthy. Star­ring Richard Jenk­ins, Hiam Ab­bass, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira PG cert, IFI/Light House, Dublin, 103 min


AN ES­TIMABLE char­ac­ter ac­tor whose face is much more familiar than his name, Richard Jenk­ins has long demon­strated an ap­par­ently ef­fort­less ver­sa­til­ity in roles as di­verse as the miner fa­ther in North Coun­try, the up­tight gay FBI agent in Flirt­ing with Dis­as­ter, and the de­ceased pa­ter­fa­mil­ias loom­ing over Six Feet Un­der.

Jenk­ins fi­nally gets a lead­ing role wor­thy of his tal­ent in The Vis­i­tor, a beau­ti­fully un­der­stated drama in which he plays Wal­ter Vale, a Con­necti­cut col­lege lec­turer whose life has been empty since the death of his wife five years ear­lier. Wal­ter feels re­mote from his col­leagues and stu­dents, and he sleep­walks through his aca­demic du­ties.

Wal­ter re­luc­tantly agrees to de­liver a pa­per at a con­fer­ence in New York, where he keeps an apart­ment in Green­wich Vil­lage. He ar­rives there to find it oc­cu­pied by an im­mi­grant Mus­lim cou­ple, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), a Syr­ian jazz mu­si­cian, and his Sene­galese part­ner Zainab (Danai Gurira), who de­signs jew­ellery she sells at a street mar­ket.

Sus­pect­ing that they have nowhere to go, Wal­ter al­lows them to stay for a few days. To his sur­prise, he finds him­self en­joy­ing their dis­tract­ing pres­ence af­ter teach­ing the same dull course for decades.

Ear­lier in the movie, a teacher tells Wal­ter that learn­ing a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment at his age is dif­fi­cult un­less he has a nat­u­ral tal­ent. He finds and taps into that skill when Tarek in­structs him in play­ing the African djembe drum.

The harsh re­al­ity of the out­side world in­trudes on this idyll, bring­ing a dilemma for Wal­ter and his new friends, as well as Tarek’s mother (Hiam Ab­bass) when she comes to visit. In ad­dress­ing the fate of un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants in the post-9/11 US, writer-di­rec­tor Tom McCarthy cap­tures the hu­man di­men­sion of their plight with depth and sub­tly but with­out sen­ti­men­tal­ity. “Af­ter a while, you for­get,” one char­ac­ter suc­cinctly notes. “You feel you re­ally be­long.”

In struc­ture, The Vis­i­tor re­sem­bles McCarthy’s ear­lier The Sta­tion Agent, an­other serenely paced nar­ra­tive in which trou­bled char­ac­ters find so­lace in each other. Again, he adopts the gen­tlest of tones, all the more ef­fec­tively in en­cour­ag­ing our em­pa­thy with and con­cern for his pro­tag­o­nists.

McCarthy elic­its touch­ingly cred­i­ble per­for­mances from his four prin­ci­pal ac­tors. He keeps Wal­ter’s di­a­logue pared to a min­i­mum, re­ly­ing in­stead on Jenk­ins’s won­der­fully ex­pres­sive qual­ity that is at the heart of this cap­ti­vat­ing film. MICHAEL DWYER

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