The Visitor (2008)
Critic Consensus: The Visitor is a heartfelt, humanistic drama that deftly explores identity, immigration, and other major post-9/11 issues.
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Critic Reviews for The Visitor
At first glance Walter isn't a guy you want to spend two hours with. But by the end of the film, you don't want to see him go. Jenkins is like that: He sneaks up on you and steals your heart with light-fingered skill.
The Visitor is a tiny treasure of a movie. This is a wistful comedy that quickly finds its rhythm, but never lets that groove become a rut.
The Visitor is a small movie, but its emotions could not be writ any larger.
The film becomes less about the suffering of immigrants who have never enjoyed the embrace of Ellis Island than the righteous indignation of a liberal intelligentsia raging against its own powerlessness.
The story of Vale's revitalization and his grief is compelling but simple, free of any sentimentality, and marked by powerful performances from Jenkins and Hiam Abbass, who plays Mouna Khalil, Tarek's mother.
Audience Reviews for The Visitor
A movie I'm sure most people saw only after Richard Jenkins was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, The Visitor is compelling and well-acted. It starts well, but it suffers in the end because of its change in focus: for a long part in the middle, it's barely about the main character anymore. And though this is kind of the point - he gets swept up in lives very different and much harder than his own - the depth of the early going thins out and the plot becomes much more mechanical, to the point that the final evolution of the protagonist doesn't hit at gut level the way the filmmaker clearly hopes it would. A good movie, but not a great one, notable mostly for Jenkins's performance... the Academy, it seems, would agree.
A lonely widower professor gets a new lease on lfie after a chance encounter with some illegal immigrants. Based on that set up alone, you could easily just cast this movie off as another case of minority characters acting as an angelic force whose purpose is to help a down and out white, as well as yet again a film where a white man comes to the aid of minorities in need. Why do that though? Especially when the way it's all handled (as is the case here) is done with care, intelligence, and an overhwelming sense of gentleness and sincerity (in good ways). The film does have typical elements to it, but it's well played, avoids being pandering (almost completely), and is aved by some terrific performances, especially that of Jenkins in a standout lead role. Yeah, the film is uneven and all over the place with what it is trying to do, but it's never boring, has a lot fo heart, and could have been done a whole lot worse. Give it a go.
Now this is more like it! A slow, simple story that flows out organically and doesn't force anything. It starts out lightly but somehow manages to pull out a spectrum of emotions: laughter, heartbreak, peace, frustration. Richard Jenkins is truly a work of art. Instead of stealing the show for himself he reacts to the events and people that happen. The story isn't about him, and he doesn't make it about him, and I appreciate that. The change is subtle yet quick and pronounced and Jenkins never breaks character. He leaks grief and jadedness wherever he goes but you can sense when he is really happy and when his passive bubble is burst. This isn't a role with lengthy soliloquys and in fact the character is quite an awkward one but somehow this only makes it more humanistic, more compassionate.
Music is a uniting force in this movie and whomever chose it has a wonderful ear. Good interspersing of African drum beats among the expansive piano runs. The director managed to make New York look very spare but it's never an image of complete coldness. In fact the cinematography is quite warm and this is all owing to Jenkins' quiet sympathy. It just goes to show that depression is not the answer and even though it doesn't end happily I'm left feeling...elevated somehow. Who was really the one most elevated, the immigrants or the professor? I guess the ending shows the professor, the "visitor" was the one that was. I guess the "visitor" is a metaphor for a happenstance upon a really rich culture. I don't know, honestly I'm really struck by Richard Jenkins. I hope he at least gets considered for an Oscar nod. I can't usually tell these things but this nuanced role was played beautifully and naturally.
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