THE VISITOR Written and directed by Tom McCarthy, with Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira and Hiam Abbass. An Alliance release. 103 minutes. Opens Friday (April 25). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NNNNN
Like Tom McCarthy’s last film, The Station Agent, The Visitor is about a deeply introverted man who reconnects to the world outside himself when he more or less accidentally becomes part of a larger community.
Here, he’s a solitary Connecticut college professor, played by the marvellous character actor Richard Jenkins, who returns to his long-vacant apartment in Manhattan’s East Village and finds a couple living there.
He’s mildly surprised; they’re to-tally freaked out, having been unaware that the place belonged to anyone. But things are resolved amicably enough. They seem like nice people, and he’s an essentially decent guy, if a little on the fogbound side. They say all the right things, exchange the appropriate pleasantries, and that’s when the real story begins.To say anything more about the plot of The Visitor would be to undercut the experience of discovering it for yourself. I’ll say that McCarthy has made another fine little jewel of a movie – one that will almost certainly disappear from theatres in a puff of indifference and eventually be rediscovered on DVD later this fall.
I’ll also say that Jenkins, who’s probably still best known as the departed Nathaniel Fisher from Six Feet Under or maybe the stoned FBI guy in Flirting With Disaster, gives what may be the performance of his career here.
Aided immeasurably by a screenplay that discloses the full breadth of his character only slowly, in a series of little revelations, Jenkins totally disappears into the role, conveying the shrugging off of Walter Vale’s isolation with little shifts in body language and a slight widening of his eyes.
Jenkins’s principal co-stars, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira and Hiam Abbass, will be utterly unfamiliar to most of you. That’s as it should be; it lets us experience them as Walter does, as a series of potential ethnic stereotypes that immediately develop into three-dimensional characters.
McCarthy doesn’t use them as narrative devices, exactly; they’re just people with problems, and the more time Walter spends with them, the more he wants to fix what he can.Don’t worry. The Visitor is not one of those movies where the white guy solves the problems of the brown people and learns a few lessons about life in the process. McCarthy follows his own instincts, letting the story go where it wants to go – and if that means we’re denied a conventional narrative, well, we just get something unconventional instead.