“THE VISITOR” (Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira & Hiam Abbass)
This is a remarkable ‘little’ film, highlighted by an exquisite performance by veteran ‘supporting’ actor Richard Jenkins; As Connecticut teacher Walter Vale, Jenkins evolves from a man who simply stops caring about his life & work until he discovers a new passion thru an unexpected influence.
It all begins when Walter is sent to a conference in New York to make a presentation on a book he ‘barely’ co-authored (“She wrote it,” he confesses, “I just read it.”)
He discovers a couple living in his ‘seemingly abandoned’ NYC apartment & throws them out. The man, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) is very apologetic, even though he explains how they were the victims of a con artist who scammed the pair by renting the place to them. The woman, Zainab (Danai Gurira) isn’t as understanding – the killer looks she throws at Walter & Tarek plainly tell her feelings toward them both.
We then witness the first moment of ‘caring’ in Walter’s eyes as he has a change of heart & invites the couple to stay in the apartment until they can find other accommodations.
I must warn you this is a very slow moving story – you need to have patience as you get to know these characters and ultimately root for them to succeed; even though they have no one to blame but themselves for their predicament.
The evolution in Walter takes place in small steps & this is the core of the film; his metamorphosis & subsequent guilt over what happens to his ‘friend’ is what keeps this slow moving vehicle chugging along.
When Tarek’s mother, Mouna arrives unannounced from Michigan wondering why she hasn’t heard from her son, Walter’s ‘caring again’ meter takes another jolt. The relationship that grows between Mouna (Hiam Abbass) & Walter is so realistic & touching it deserves to be seen by as many ‘lovers of great acting’ as possible.
When the screen went black at the end, I verbally whined, “Oh no!” Yes, it was a slow moving, character detailed story that seemed rather mundane for the first 15 minutes, yet when it was over, I wanted MORE! After that initial disappointment wore off, I was able to appreciate the final scene – as I imagine would anyone.
See “The Visitor” when you can, & even though it isn’t ‘Oscar’ season & I know it’s a long-shot – I’m predicting a Best Actor nomination for Richard Jenkins. Probably won’t happen, but it should.