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The Visitor

3.8 17
Director: Tom McCarthy

Cast: Richard Jenkins, Hiam Abbass, Haaz Sleiman


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A lonesome widower and college economics professor finds his mundane existence suddenly shaken up when he befriends a pair of illegal immigrants, one of whom has recently been threatened with deportation by U.S. immigration authorities, in the sophomore feature from The Station Agent director Tom


A lonesome widower and college economics professor finds his mundane existence suddenly shaken up when he befriends a pair of illegal immigrants, one of whom has recently been threatened with deportation by U.S. immigration authorities, in the sophomore feature from The Station Agent director Tom McCarthy. Years after losing his wife, 62-year-old Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) has also lost his passion for writing and teaching. In an effort to fill the empty void that his life has become, Walter makes a half-hearted attempt to learn to play classical piano. Later, when Walter's college sends him to a conference in Manhattan, he is surprised to discover that a young couple has moved into his seldom-used apartment in the city. Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and his Senegalese girlfriend Zainab (Danai Gurira) have fallen victims to an elaborate real-estate scam, and as a result they no longer have a place to call home. When Walter reluctantly allows the couple to remain in his apartment, talented musician Tarek insists on repaying his host's kindness by teaching him to play the African drum. Over the course of Walter's lessons, the ageing academic finds his spirits revitalized while gaining a newfound appreciation for New York jazz clubs and Central Park drum circles. Later, Tarek is arrested in the subway and threatened with deportation after police learn that he is an undocumented citizen. Suddenly, in his attempt to help his new friend, Walter's passion for life is unexpectedly awakened. When Tarek's radiant mother Mouna (Hiam Abbass) arrives in the city in search of her son, that passion turns to romance -- something that Walter had previously thought he would never experience again.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Perry Seibert
Like his first film, The Station Agent, Tom McCarthy's elegantly structured sophomore effort, The Visitor, tells a very simple story about a human being inching his way out of a self-imposed emotional cocoon. Richard Jenkins stars as professor Walter Vale, a middle-aged widower going through the motions at his job, as well as in his life. Aside from a diminishing desire to learn piano, Walter lives without any passion -- not even his young eager students touch him. Jenkins plays the character without an ounce of hangdog charm -- he is not a lovable loser, but a cold shell of a person, disconnected from everybody and everything. When his boss orders him to attend an academic conference in New York City, he grudgingly relents and discovers quite a surprise when he arrives at the apartment he keeps there, which he hasn't been to in many years. He finds a pair of illegal immigrants, Tarek and Zainab, who have taken up residence. Although Walter kicks them out, he eventually relents out of common decency -- the two have nowhere else to go for the night. The Syrian-born Tarek, played beautifully by newcomer Haaz Sleiman, is full of all the life and enthusiasm that Walter lacks -- so much so that his goodwill naturally spills over into his work as a professional jazz percussionist. He and his girlfriend work out an understanding with Walter over the use of the apartment, and one day he arrives home to find Walter there, attempting to play one of his African drums. Tarek begins giving the older man lessons, and Walter experiences a joy while practicing that begins his emotional rehabilitation. Just when everything seems to be going well for the new friends, however, a misunderstanding at a subway station leads to Tarek's detention at a center for illegal immigrants. Walter does everything he can to help the young man, including hiring a lawyer and visiting him as much as possible. In one poignant scene, they practice drum rhythms over the phone during visitation as they look at each other across a glass partition. This is, in many ways, the exact same story arc McCarthy employed in The Station Agent; the mournful loner learns to come out of his shell. However, where that film was content to tell just the characters' stories, The Visitor has a much more ambitious theme. With a subtle insistence, McCarthy makes the viewer aware that Walter represents where America is spiritually and emotionally in the years after September 11, 2001. This theme takes root slowly, blossoming as the film develops and as the audience gradually, but most assuredly, learns to care for the main character. In Walter's relationship with Tarek, Tom McCarthy offers a critique that America, like Walter, loses its way when it shuts itself off from other people. The list of great films about post 9/11 America is very short, but The Visitor belongs on it, in large part because it distills huge societal issues down to one very simple and compelling human story.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Starz / Anchor Bay

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Richard Jenkins Walter Vale
Hiam Abbass Mouna
Haaz Sleiman Tarek
Danai Gurira Zainab
Marian Seldes Barbara
Richard Kind Jacob
Michael Cumpsty Charles
Maggie Moore Karen
Bill McHenry Darin
Tzahi Moskovitz Zev
Amir Arison Mr. Shah
Neal Lerner Martin Revere
Ramon Fernandez Cop #1
Frank Pando Cop #2
Waleed Zuaitor Omar
Deborah Rush Upper Eastside Woman
Ashley Springer Student
Laith Nakli Nasim
Jacqueline Brogman Waiter
Walter T. Mudu Ronald Cole
Yevgeniy Dekhtyar Slavic Man
Earl Baker Lester James
Walter the Dog Sprinkles the Dog

Technical Credits
Tom McCarthy Director,Screenwriter
Omar Amanat Executive Producer
Kerry Barden Casting
Oliver Bokelberg Cinematographer
Damian Canelos Sound/Sound Designer
Len X. Clayton Art Director
Mariela Comitini Asst. Director
Suzanne Crowley Casting
Stephane Foenkinos Casting
Billy Hopkins Casting
Jan A.P. Kaczmarek Score Composer
Michael London Producer
Tom McArdle Editor
Rafal Paczkowski Sound Mixer
John Paino Production Designer
Stacey Panepinto Makeup
John Piano Production Designer
Mary Ramos Musical Direction/Supervision
Chris Salvaterra Executive Producer
Paul Schnee Casting
Mary Jane Skalski Producer
Jeff Skoll Executive Producer
Ricky Strauss Executive Producer
Melissa Toth Costumes/Costume Designer


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3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
SusanIL More than 1 year ago
Don't be fooled by the fact that this movie isn't "big box office" -- it delivers like one. Richard Jenkins is superb (fans of Six Feet Under know him and agree) and his understated performance as Walter continues to prove his excellence as an actor. Hiam Abbass is engaging and captivates the screen and the story has two dimensions --the issue of decent people forced into illegal immigration and our lack of ability to weed these individuals out from the truly undesirable that are here (often due to their financial viablity or polictical clout) coupled with the truly poignant story of a man deeply grieving his reason for being and the tedioius life he now leads in the wake of a momentous loss. A must see!
Krita More than 1 year ago
I first saw this movie on the big screen and told everyone I knew to see it. Richard Jenkins gives a low-key but emotionally gripping performance. The fact that he has received nominations for several awards is testament to a well acted role. An unforgettable piece of film.
STONEHUNTER More than 1 year ago
I Have A Djembe;I love movies ; Especially ones with a real plot Rather than flash (although flash CAN be good). So when my sister suggested this movie (witch I had seenpreviews for) I jumped at it . and was I glad The plot was two-fold The secondary(to me at least) one about the immigration problems ;was compelling and and I wish it could of ended better . but for me the main plotline was the lonliness of the main charecter and how this couple and then the mother brought him out of his shell throughg the djemba and the fight for the son's freedom. the music is infectious and the ending sad . it goes to show Even Charecter actors Like Jenkins deserve to shine . in the bounuses there is a interesting annecdote about how jenkins already knew how to play the drums and Abbass ,whose charecter had to teach him Didn't. whitch I thought was funny. I defenitly recamend that you buy and keep this movie in your collection
Diwd More than 1 year ago
On the surface this film appears to be a sleeper but don't be deceived. It soon seduces you by the contrast between a man worn out by the humdrum world of his academic career and the immigrants who have secreted themselves into US society to find a new life. Just as the professor is challenged by the plight of those immigrants slowly one drum beat at a time, so will the thoughtful viewer. I routinely chat with faraway friends via various websites who would like to come to the US but find the legal challenges insurmountable. The coldness of the INS is well-portrayed in this film. Since 9/11 we have become a very unwelcoming nation, extinguishing the light of hope the Statue of liberty once held high for the world. This film will sensitize you to those issues and more, making you think about your life and what you are doing that makes you hopeful and happy. Listen to the beat of a different drummer! Watch this film!
rcbarajas More than 1 year ago
A classic "small" film that far out-powers "big" films with enormous budgets. The intimate story of alienation, affection and cross-cultural connections is so real, it feels as though these people are part of your own world, that you have known them all your life. The performances by Richard Jenkins and every member of the small cast are universally genuine and unselfconscious, full of implied backstory and tremendous depth. The drums and the characters provide a steady heartbeat that will stay with you long after the film ends.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Just when it seems that film makers have sold out to the idea of blockbuster instant wealth, along comes the very quiet little film THE VISITOR, reassuring us that quality independent films are alive and well. Written and directed by actor Thomas McCarthy, whose only previous film in the role of writer/director was the incomparable THE STATION AGENT, this subdued little miracle of a film further examines the concept of isolated man searching for connection. The impact of this simple story of friendship and bonding stays with the viewer, permanently imprinted on our view of the global community. Professor Walter Vale (Richard Jennings in a career making role) is an older man, widowed and greatly diminished by the death of his opera singer wife, bored with teaching the same class on Economics at Connecticut College for years while writing yet another book that holds no interest for him - a lonely, embittered man longing for some meaning in his life, trying to learn piano from an older teacher Barbara (Marion Seldes) without much success. His college sends him to New York to 'read' a paper he supposedly 'co-wrote' with a colleague and he reluctantly goes to the city for the 'task': he owns an apartment there that he uses only occasionally. Upon arrival he finds a young, terrified couple living in his apartment - two illegal immigrants, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) from Syria and his girlfriend Zainab (Danai Jekesai Gurira) from Senegal. At first shocked by the couple, Walter soon feels their insecurities and invites them to stay. Tarek has been in America for three years, living in Michigan with his mother Mouna (Hiam Abbass), and has only been in New York a short while, following his dream to play drums and to be with his jewelry-making lover Zainab. Over time Walter begins to absorb the joy of living Tarek displays while he is drumming and Tarek teaches Walter the art of the drum. Together they perform in parks while Zainab sells her jewelry in the streets. A minor incident in the subway results in Tarek's arrest and because his is an illegal immigrant, he is placed in a Detention Center in Queens. Walter is shocked at the cruelty of the police action, remains supportive to the devastated Zainab, and visits the distraught Tarek daily in the Detention Center, finding a lawyer to help the case and in every way being supportive of his new friend. Mouna arrives form Michigan to see why her son has stopped calling her and Walter and Mouna become close out of mutual concern and love for Tarek and his depressing situation. Though they try to recover Tarek from detention, the 'methods and rules' of the government are against their efforts. The film ends with a sigh, not trying to resolve the insoluble problems of immigrant detention in this country, but instead focusing on the impact these four very beautiful people have made on each other. McCarthy's concept and writing and direction are understated and all the more strong in the final impact of the film because of that approach. Each of the four main characters is outstanding: Jennings gives an Oscar worthy performance, the new face of Haaz Sleiman is a revelation, and the beautifully nuanced acting of Abbass and Gurira suggest strong careers in the making. This is a magically tender and beautifully sensitive film and deserves the attention of all who care about the global village and about the importance of independent filmmaking. Highest Recommendation. Grady Harp
mishawaka-bookie More than 1 year ago
"The Visitor" seeks up on you, much the same way "The Girl in the cafe" does. It will poke your intellect & emotions, and make you sit up and really think. By all means experience "The Visitor". You psyche won't let go of it.
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