Like director Thomas McCarthys brilliant debut feature, The Station Agent, his follow-up film, The Visitor, also tells the story of an isolated man coming to life through developing unlikely friendships.
This film starts with Walter (Six Feet Unders Richard Jenkins), a lonely widower and economics professor barely going through the motions of living, getting sent to New York City for an academic conference. When he arrives at his long-neglected city apartment, he finds a couple living there that thought they had legitimately rented it. Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), an irrepressible Syrian drummer, and Esi (Danai Gurira), a wary Senegalese jewellery-maker, end up sharing the apartment and Walter and Tarek begin to bond over their shared love of music. When Tarek gets randomly arrested in the subway, the couples illegal immigrant status comes to light and Tarek is sent to a detention centre to await deportation. Suddenly, Walter becomes the only liaison between Tarek and his loved ones, who arent allowed to visit him.
The film has a lot of affection for its characters, beautifully observing the quiet moments of their blossoming friendships. It uses these lovely, unimpeachable characters to bring to light the injustices of the post-9/11 immigration system. McCarthys direction is precise and well-shot, leaving lots of room for the actors to tell the story. The cast is also excellent. Haaz Sleimans Tarek is incredibly likeable, even when hes forced into such a dehumanising place, and Danai Gurira stands out as Esi, quietly tolerating the racial realities of city life and showing an understandable guardedness at Walters sudden intrusion into their lives.
Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass delivers a lovely turn as Tareks mother, exuding dignity and developing a strangely tender relationship with host Walter. But this is really Richard Jenkins movie, and whose light touches make Walters pivotal transformation endearingly real and completely compelling. (Groundswell)