A movie review by Libby Wadman for KPCW radio, Park City, UT
The Visitor is the latest film written and directed by Tom McCarthy who gave us The Station Agent. I really loved the latter, and had high hopes for this movie. What a relief, I wasn’t disappointed. In The Visitor, Tom McCarthy has once again given us a set of unrelated characters, each with their own baggage, whose lives collide in a most engaging and believable way. The Visitor concerns a recently widowed Connecticut professor, who is going through the motions of life, and just surviving day to day, connected to no one. When he returns to his New York City apartment after some years of absence, he is unexpectedly confronted by a pair of immigrants who have taken up residence in the apartment. Saying more would give too much of the story away, so suffice it to say that the rest of the film is about the surprising relationships that develop between these people, and what they do for each other.
As a writer, McCarthy is truly gifted. He is able to develop complex characters and their lives in the brief span of 103 minutes. McCarthy is able to acquaint you with each character in such a way that you feel as though you have had a lifetime getting to know them. They are comfortable, and react, as we would expect them to. This enables the viewer to become one with each of the characters, and before too much time has passed, we are feeling their joys and their sorrows as if they were our own. Tom McCarthy’s directorial talents are no less brilliant. Interactions between characters flow seamlessly. Timing of reactions from angry outbursts to subtle changes in facial expression are all carefully crafted and delivered beautifully by the actors. The audience is made to feel that the story is unfolding for the first time right before its eyes.
The four main characters are all equally wonderful in presenting credible, profound performances. Richard Jenkins as the professor, Walter, immediately pulls you into his world, causing your heart to practically break watching him try to navigate his life alone after what one infers to have been a long and happy marriage. Haaz Sleiman as Tarek, may be the world’s next heartthrob. His character is charming, engaging, and just so down right terrific, it’s no wonder that Richard Jenkin’s character gets caught up in his world. He is so convincing, many viewers may have left the theater thinking about taking up playing an African drum. The young woman who plays Zainab, Tarek’s wife, is a bit too aloof to really feel drawn to, but as the story unfolds one becomes totally empathetic with her. Hiam Abbass as Turek’s mother projects an incredible inner strength with just enough vulnerability coming through to make her totally believable.
All in all this is a very powerful film, with only a minor fidget factor about two thirds of the way through. Although the general plot tends to be depressing, the script and performances leave the viewer with just enough hope for the characters to make this a highly worthwhile film.