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The Visitor
Genre Drama
Year: 2007

The Visitor is written and directed by Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent). McCarthy's beautiful film carries a relatively simple story about enlightenment in post 9/11 Amercia, which is embodied by an invigorating Oscar-nominated performance from character actor, Richard Jenkins. This is a career best for the veteran actor after more than 33 years of acting experience, who is instantly recognisable, but difficult to place in any particular movie or performance. Recently, he's been the doting gym manager in Burn After Reading and the irritated father in Step Brothers.

The Station Agent was an off-beat indie movie about friendship, acceptance and allowing people into your life. McCarthy demonstrated sensitive direction, guiding his actors in a sincere, heartfelt, bittersweet and sometimes funny film starring Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale. It's also not surprising to learn that he has story credits for Up, the animated Pixar helium balloon journey.

The same spirit is present in The Visitor, a story about Walter Vale, a College Professor, who travels to New York City for a conference only to discover a young couple living in his apartment. McCarthy understands life's little complexities and just how fascinating the unexpected and unpredictable nature of our social interactions can be.

His principal character, a disheartened man on the cusp of a new chapter in his life, is very similar to that of Up and The Station Agent. The prospect of transition is mesmerising and entertaining. What at first seems hopeless is gradually developed to the point of self-fulfillment. The character is so entrenched in his new life that he is not willing to let go, despite setbacks and adversity... showing a remarkable improvement in disposition.

The Visitor explores the lonely College Professor's life from his interactions with two illegal immigrants: a man from Sudan and a woman from Senegal. The connections are real and the Professor's kind spirit grows as he mingles with his guests and learns to trust his primal instincts.

The African drumming is a metaphor for Vale's transition as he slowly disconnects from the trappings of the Western rat race to connect with his inner-being. The Visitor also touches on contemporary issues surrounding immigration law in the United States.

The message is one of racial tolerance, acceptance and equality as exemplified by Walter. Instead of meeting the otherness with fear, he is willing to co-operate and find inner peace. He loses the numbness of his mundane lifestyle to embrace the differences, willing to assert himself in the name of his beliefs, instead of withdrawing.

The solid ensemble made up of Haaz Sleiman, Danai Jekesai Gurira, Hiam Abbass is led by Richard Jenkins. Each character is given great depth by the script, which is drawn out by their true performances. The simple yet poignant story, realistic writing and sensitive direction from McCarthy all create the perfect setting for this cosmopolitan drama to play out.

It's a contemplative piece, backed by an amazing understanding of humanity and a great passion for its characters. The ache for humanity and setting from Reign Over Me is combined with the messages of Crash and Crossing Over, tempered with the subtle humour and unpredictability from The Station Agent, making The Visitor a must-see film.

The bottom line: Mesmerising. 


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