It's December, which means the Oscar-worthy films are starting to arrive. Frankly, it's about damn time. There have been some great action movies and comedies this year, but very little in the way of Oscar bait. In fact, this is one of the weakest years in quite a well. At least so far. So, needless to say, I was delighted when I watched The Visitor, a drama that is pretty intriguing.
I had cast off this movie as soon as I saw the poster months ago, which features Richard Jenkins playing drums in a subway station. Boring! Thankfully, after a few recommendations from friends, family and coworkers, I decided to check The Visitor out, and was pleasantly surprised. While still not an award winner by any means, The Visitor is one of the better films of the year, if not for the strong performance by Jenkins and the screenplay by director Thomas McCarthy.
The movie is about a professor who pretends that he's always busy to avoid the fact that his life is completely uninteresting. When he travels to New York City for a conference, however, he arrives at his own second home to discover that two illegal immigrants have been living there. Instead of casting them out, he lets them stay, and in the process discovers a love for drum-playing. More importantly, though, he befriends one of his new housemates, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman). When Tarek is arrested and suddenly faced with deportation, the professor sets out to free his friend - and in the process strikes up a relationship with Tarek's mother (Hiam Abbass).
The Visitor is a compelling little drama that never seeks to overpower. It isn't there to blow you away or evoke strong emotions. Yet, it still does to some degree. McCarthy's screenplay is subtle, yet brilliantly conceived. The picture feels realistic from beginning to end, thanks also in part to Jenkins' performance. Like everything in the film, his performance is understated, but once things are all said and done, you realize just how good he is. Again, maybe not award-winning, but he certainly deserves some recognition.
The story itself is pretty good. I liked the natural development of events, from the surprise guests to the eventual and unlikely relationship that forms.
A year or two from now, I probably won't remember this movie, but The Visitor has been a small highlight in an otherwise so-so year.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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