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The Visitor (2008)

November 19, 2009

8/10 Awkward Homecomings

World, say hello to Richard Jenkins. Great to finally put a name to the face.

The Visitor is about a quiet, reserved widower that takes a leave of absence from his teaching job to spend some time at his old NYC apartment that he hasn’t been to in God-knows-how-long. So he walks in through the front door only to find a Syrian bongo player and his Senegalese girlfriend squatting in his place of residence because they don’t have green cards. He freaks out at first, but before he outright boots their asses onto the streets, his heart grows three sizes that day and lets them crash until they get back on their feet. To pay back the favor, the Syrian guy teaches his new landlord how to play the bongos, the guy starts to break out of his shell, and so begins a beautiful, yet tumultuous, relationship between these two unlikely individuals.

It’s too bad this movie came and went when it was out in theaters, but by the same token, I’m not all that surprised either. The problem with The Visitor is that it’s almost too subtle for it’s own good as it kinda caters to an older indie crowd. My good buddy Fred and I were the youngest people in the theater by a long shot and a lot of the dialogue and humor – even though they’re both very solid – that we found ourselves smiling at were echoed with guffaws and such by the crowd around us that was a good thirty years our senior.

Nonetheless, this is still a damn fine movie.

It’s the sophomore effort by director Thomas McCarthy, the same guy who did another good, yet overlooked, movie called The Station Agent (should probably get around to seeing that one again). The thing that McCarthy does well is that he makes no-frills movies that are totally character-driven. He keeps it simple and straightforward with the camerawork and pretty much just tells it like it is. It’s actually nice to come across directors every now again that don’t try to be the center of the story and let the people in front of the camera do what they do best. And in this case, McCarthy lucked the hell out.

So this is Richard Jenkins. Yes, you’ve seen him before, and, no, don’t feel bad if you can’t remember a single movie he’s from. The guy’s been in every movie under the Sun but up until now hasn’t gotten the chance to stand in the limelight. This is probably another reason not a whole lot of people went out to find this movie, and again, that’s a shame. To say that Richard Jenkins hits it out of the park as our protagonist Walter Vale is an understatement. I still find myself thinking back to the one scene he has here that more or less got him nominated for a Best Actor Oscar last year and each time I think to myself, “What a freakin’ performance.”

The rest of the cast is very good as well, but Jenkins delivers on a whole ‘nother level and you’ll be scratching your head after wondering where the hell this guy’s been hiding all these years. If he hadn’t been up against Mickey Rourke, I think he might have been my front-runner pick for that golden bald man.

I hope I’m not selling this movie short by making this out to be for old fogies or anything, it’s just not often I come across such a dramatic experience like this that also happens to be so subtle and reflective about the circumstances it’s dealing with. It’s a very human movie that covers a lot of pertinent issues about our society in regards to conflicts of culture and the things we can gain from each other as people.

So if you’re one of the many who happened to miss it, The Visitor is one worth checking out. It’s heartfelt, heartbreaking, and it’s got some great music in it, too, even if you could care less about bongos.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Branden permalink
    November 19, 2009 3:04 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree with your praise for Richard Jenkins performance. I was excited that he was nominated for the Oscar. He deserves it.

    I didn’t hear about this movie until I podcast that I listen to, “Cinebanter” reviewed it. They turn me on to it. I’m glad they did.

    I do have one question, Aiden, you didn’t mention why the couple were squatting in his apartment. I thought conflict with the couple should have been explored more.

    • November 19, 2009 4:11 pm

      Yeah, sorry about that, kinda dropped the ball there on the whole illegal alien thing. Nonetheless, the necessary changes have been made. Glad you enjoyed it as much as I did. Did you mean the movie should have addressed the relationship more or I should have?

      • Branden permalink
        November 19, 2009 4:37 pm

        Well, it was mostly the movie. It brought the issue of illegal immigration. It had a convenient ending to that storyline. That wasn’t explored in depth.

  2. November 20, 2009 2:35 am

    Jenkins deserved every bit of the Oscar nomination he got. I love these quiet films that move along and you keep waiting for them to make a wrong move or take a wrong step, and they never do. The Visitor is a film that never tries to do to much. It lets the story play out naturally without trying to force the social issues and as a result, the film feels more authentic and powerful.

    • November 20, 2009 9:39 am

      My sentiments exactly, Jenkins nailed this sucker. You happen to see The Station Agent by chance? Had the same kind of quiet vibe to it.

      • November 20, 2009 6:21 pm

        Yeah, I actually saw The Station Agent right after I watched The Visitor. Lot of similarities, but still a very good film on its own.

  3. Marc permalink
    November 20, 2009 1:06 pm

    I funny enough just caught this last week and was impressed with how much was achieved with so very little and agree completely with what Danny said about “The Visitor is a film that never tries to do to much”.

    The more the emotions started to run high,the movie just felt ‘real’ in that they didn’t try to give it the ‘Hollywood’ glamor. To me that made the characters seem like the way people would actually deal with situations, and not like they were just reading some lines from the script…if that makes sense. Sleeper of a film but well worth the time. I truly like Jenkins’ performance near the end in the waiting room where they tell him to step away from the window.

  4. November 26, 2009 6:32 pm

    Absolutely loved this movie as well. Richard Jenkins is the man!

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