The Visitor is justly acclaimed for its finely-calibrated performances and nuanced look at the world of post-9/11 immigration enforcement. But like last year’s Half Nelson, which was a nuanced look at drug addiction, it is also deadly slow. Even the old folks at the afternoon matinee said so.
The story would seem impossible to pull off. Lonely and bitter professor Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) is forced to leave his comfortable life in Connecticut and deliver a paper at an NYU symposium. He has kept, though he has been away for years, an apartment in the Village. When he walks in, he discovers an immigrant couple, Tarik (Haaz Sleiman) and Zainab (Danai Gurira). Walter’s initial reaction is to throw them out of the apartment. How writer/director Tom McCarthy gets us to believe that Walter would not only invite them back in but also makes it plausible that Walter would take up their cause when there are immigration troubles I won’t spoil.
Richard Jenkins’ performance as Walter has been praised and I liked it just fine. I do wish that he had allowed more of his character’s repressed sexuality that is blaring from the script to leak out. While it is believable that Walter would act simply from the goodness of his heart, it is more believable that there would be a mixture of charity and romance in some of his actions. His foil for the latter half of the movie, Israli Arab actress Haim Abbas (playing Tarik’s mother), pulls this off effortlessly.
The thing I loved most about this movie was the sense of reality to it, and not just in the lines and the performances. It’s nice, for once, to see some accurate New York City geography.
What The Visitor ultimately needed was a visual lyricism to fill the aching pauses between lines. Tom McCarthy (an actor himself, and director of The Station Agent) has proven to be an actor’s director and fine writer. I hope his next film can have a visual style and rhythm that holds the old folks’ short attentions.