That guy, you know, the one who is in everything playing a middle aged, slightly grumpy guy. Richard Jenkins? Yes, that’s him! Well, he’s back and instead of down in the grumps, he’s playing the mournfully disenchanted Walter in Thomas McCarthy’s The Visitor.
The quotidian middle aged man in American suburbia, science professor Walter’s languished life is rejuvenated when, on a travel to New York for a economics convention, he stumbles across two strangers living in his uninhabited NYC apartment. Instead of throwing a paddy, Walter embraces the unsolicited house sitting couple, Tarek (Haaz Sieiman) and Zainab (Danai Gurira), developing a strong kinship which rejuvenates his bleak outlook and reinforces a spring in his step.
What’s most refreshing about the film is it deals with questions of illegal immigration on a totally humanistic level, almost as a parenthesis to the close relationships on show. Walter’s bond with the two unwarranted asylum seekers doesn’t breach into schmaltzy, coming-of-age territory like so many films revolving around race seem to (i.e. Oscar-hungry The Help from year past). Instead, McCarthy treads lightly with these hugely pertinent issues, which eventually leads to a more powerful emotional staying power. It shouldn’t go without mention that Jenkins is the primary force behind the film’s beating heart; in a delicate role that saw him lose out to an Academy Award against Sean Penn for Milk (come on, it was a tough year).
Although I often disregard film advertisements that highlight the producer role, here it should be embraced. Produced by Sideways’ man BLAH, The Visitor has the same sort of pace, i.e. none. It’s a very patient film, and all the better for it.
An earnest watch, resurrect this film from the back of the dusty DVD rental counter and give it a chance. Whilst you’re at it, give peace a chance too.