Publisher's note: As redundant as a pacing lost soul, I am loathe to admit, Wyatt is probably our most read writer. Over a month ago, March 12, 2012, I was perusing our sister publication, Better Angels Now, and I noticed that so many of Wyatt's reviews, of the many fine films that occupy the public's interest, have not been availed to our readers through our Beaufort County Now publication.
Consequently, over the next many weeks, we will endeavor to remedy this mild injustice by publishing these reviews, in our current improved format, for your edification. Here below is our eleventh in a series of these older articles of interest by our good friend, Wyatt Sanderman Day.
Small Film Promotes a Big Message
Middle-aged widower Walter Vale finds richness to his life by discovering that he matters, that others matter. Walter is a miserable man who admits, "I pretend at life. I pretend to work, but, in fact I haven't done any real work for some time." Walter, portrayed by character actor Richard Jenkins, is a college economics professor. Walter has no zest for life.
Walter tries the piano, since his late wife was classically trained. I suspect he wishes that the piano may keep him connected to his memory of her, but alas, he has no ear for the ivories. Walter needs a transfusion of spirit because his is sick.
Walter gets his chance to revive his suffering soul when he reluctantly attends a conference of his peers at New York University. Walter has an apartment in Manhattan, and unbeknownst to Walter some shady character name Ivan has illegally rented his furnished apartment to Syrian refugee Tarek Khailil, played by Haaz Sleiman, and his Senegallian mate Zainab, played by Danai Gurira. Walter meets the visitors when he walks in on Zainab taking a bath in his tub. Obviously these foreigners have been taken advantage of by another foreigner - Ivan.
By the sheer chance of Walter's uncharacteristic generosity, he invites them to remain in the apartment for a few days until they can find a new place. Walter finds that he enjoys the 3 beat time of Tarek's well played African drum, and that curiosity leads to a friendship that is established through music, and maybe it will be music that will repair Walter's damaged spirit.
Walter enjoys the youthful Tarek, who has a beautiful spirit, full of hopeful optimism and a zest for life. Tarek is painted as the good Arab, the artistic Muslim, who wrongly never received asylum when he made the United States his home. Tarek is in America illegally and there is no solution to his predicament.
Walter learns to live a little because of his newfound friendship, and discovers that there is one thing he can enthusiastically commit to - his friendship to Tarek. Their friendship is built on the perfect building blocks of any good relationship: trust, generosity, compassion, and the audience can sense that this relationship will lead to first, a life affirming realization, and ultimately, a life changing reality for Walter.
Director and writer Thomas McCarthy uses "The Visitor" to poses as many questions about interpersonal relationships as he does about illegal immigration. This balance in theme, while leaving most questions unanswered is he strength of this little film's strong composition. The acting is first rate, and I was never bored during the entirety of the film's 104 minutes of runtime.
"The Visitor" is a small film, so don't look for an abundance of action or cinematic angst, but on the other hand, it's not the confusing, pretentious mess of "Rachel Getting Married." If sincerity of narrative is what you're aiming for, "The Visitor" will not disappoint.
Rated PG13. Released on DVD October 7, 2008