Tom McCarthy, USA, 2007, 104 min.
Once you choose to ignore the heavy-handed post 9/11 paranoia parable, Tom McCarthy’s The Visitor is a standard yet effective drama. Walter (Richard Jenkins), a post middle-aged college professor, is living a lonely life. We know this because the film follows him through his day as he walks alone, eats alone, and when surrounded by colleagues out of necessity, only stares off into the distance. At home, he tries to learn piano from a string of teachers. The love of music bringing him nothing but sadness because of painful memories of his wife’s passing.
When forced to go to NYC for a conference, he makes an unlikely discovery of two impossibly perfect illegal immigrants living in his seldom used apartment. The beautiful, talented and kind Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and Zainab (Danai Gurira) slowly cause Walter’s loneliness to disappear as he develops an affinity for the native drum Tarek plays. Even if circumstances around them are a bit too manufactured, these sequences are engrossing and Walter’s change does seem genuine.
Things are going swimmingly for everyone until the third act throws a wrench into things in the form of US IMMIGRATION. Walter, who now finds himself actually caring about something, reacts accordingly. The results are mixed, but the in-your-face message are outweighed by the quiet, deliberate direction and strong performances throughout.