The Visitor (2008)
The Visitor (2008)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.

Release Date: April 11th, 2008 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Tom McCarthy Actors: Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira, Hiam Abbass, Marian Seldes, Richard Kind, Maggie Moore




ith a highly inventive introduction to cheerfully mismatched characters, “The Visitor” becomes a daring look at the hopelessness of complicated immigration circumstances. Superbly acted and beautifully scored, the film refuses to back down from its touching subject matter and realistically dour events, contributing to an unadorned fusion of drama and tragedy. Aptly-timed comic relief and the persuasive power of music and romance also chime in at just the right moments to elevate harsh scenarios into cathartic wonderment.

Bitter and bored college professor Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) travels to his New York apartment after being forced to attend a conference on global economization. Immediately, he discovers a couple living in his home, but, instead of calling the authorities, musters the unusual kindness (along with the welcome thought of company) to invite them to stay. Tarek Khalil (Haaz Sleiman) plays the drums, soon coaxing the unsociable Walter to take up the instrument. And Tarek’s girlfriend Zainab (Danai Gurira), though cautious and slower to acknowledge Walter’s hospitality, eventually warms to his presence.

When Tarek is arrested at the subway and taken to a detention center for illegal immigrants, Walter shows estimable concern for his newfound friend. Weighing his teaching job back in Connecticut against helping a man he’s known for less than two weeks, Walter hires a lawyer to aid in Tarek’s release. When Mrs. Khalil (Hiam Abbass) arrives to find out what has happened to her son, Walter finds himself rediscovering romance as he balances – and defines – the things that are truly important in his life.

Great care is taken to create sympathy for Tarek and Zainab, even though they are chiefly at fault for their precarious positions. They’ve done nothing wrong in the eyes of the viewer – and its best that it stays that way – for the law they break is too complex to designate as morally right or wrong. “The Visitor” unflinchingly demonstrates the bleakness of their situation, ensuring that their specific story represents a likely majority of factual examples. The mocking sign “Know Your Rights” at the detention center foreshadows the unfortunate prejudices and consequences of an unsympathetic system – and its elusive, unknowable intricacies. In the end, Walter’s inner revelations are the solace that must outshine his guests’ discouraging plight.

Richard Jenkins’ acting is phenomenal, even though his role demands that he remove a wide array of emotions from his weathered face. Offering many scenes of comedy relief and the amusing rediscovery of long-abandoned romance, Jenkins delivers a wholesome character that is relatable, likeable, and believable. His distaste for his work and his discontent with life gives his eventual recognition of purpose even more of a cinematic edge. And being an incompatible companion and an unlikely friend lends to further depth and appeal. Though Tarek and Zainab are the first visitors, with Mrs. Khalil after that, it’s Walter who is the visitor to their unique world – one to which he was previously completely oblivious.

Part romance, part comedy, and many parts drama, “The Visitor” presents moral conflict with the faceless evils of uncaring regulations, moderated by the powerful and heartfelt bonding between a weary, lonely man and a free-spirited musician. While the film slows in a few spots, the constant interjection of humor safely guarantees that audiences won’t lose interest and will only foster additional concern for the characters and premise. It’s an uncommonly sincere film that manages to mix harsh realism with crowd-pleasing entertainment.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10