Movie of the Week: ‘The Visitor’

Happy Birthday, Richard Jenkins!

Richard celebrates his 77th birthday on May 4, so AHFW wants to honor him by naming “The Visitor” (2008) as our Movie of the Week. Mr. Jenkins earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination in this film, so it’s a must-see as well as many other productions starring this fabulous actor.

The Visitor” (2008) – Walter (Richard Jenkins) is lost.

He’s not “name-on-a-milk-carton” lost, but Walter is spiritually and emotionally absent.

Sure, he teaches at Connecticut College, owns a beautiful suburban home, and lives comfortably, but he’s bored and depressed.

His sparsely attended class seems drab, and his students aren’t enjoying themselves either.  Out of the blue, his boss asks him to present a paper at NYU.  Traveling to New York City is the very last thing Walter wishes to do, but he begrudgingly makes the trip.

Distracted and tired, imagine his surprise when he finds a 20-something couple, Zainab (Danai Gurira) and Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), living in his NYC apartment.

With nowhere else to go, Walter allows them to stay, and soon, a friendship is born.

In writer/director Thomas McCarthy’s memorable first film, “The Station Agent” (2003), he brought together an unlikely group of three friends.  In his follow-up, “The Visitor”, he follows a similar idea.

On the surface, Walter couldn’t be more different than Zainab and Tarek.  He’s a conservative, risk-averse widower in his 50s who earns a comfortable living but is down on life.

Conversely, Zainab and Tarek are a free-spirited young couple from Senegal and Syria, respectively.  They don’t have much money, but Zainab and Tarek enjoy living in the moment and love one another.  This unlikely triad forms a welcomed bond, and Tarek and Walter become especially good friends.

Walter discovers an authentic interest in Tarek’s musical gifts with the African drum.  Before long, Tarek teaches Walter how to play, and this down-and-out professor feels reborn.

“The Visitor” is a beautifully crafted, sincere story about friendship, loyalty, perseverance, and mutual respect.

McCarthy’s movie sneaks up on you and, before you know it, tugs on your heartstrings.

Led by Jenkins’s sensational Best Actor Oscar-nominated performance, we cheer for Walter as long-lost grins finally stretch across his face and recoil when outside forces threaten this delicate and new relationship.

McCarthy doesn’t just offer a warm story about a lost soul finding his way; he also illuminates real post-9/11 issues.

The U.S. continues to feel the problems that 9/11 left in its wake, but McCarthy brings them front-and-center for us to see up close, and in the concrete jungle of 2008 New York City, Walter might rediscover his humanity…as a visitor.

⭐ ⭐⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐ ⭐⭐⭐

Directed and written by: Tom McCarthy

Starring: Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira

Runtime: 104 minutes

Rated: PG-13

Image credits: Overture Films

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