Ageing widower and economics professor Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) is a grouch. He spends his days giving his students a hard time. When he is sent to Manhattan to present a dull paper, a series of misunderstandings lead him to meet Syrian drummer Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and his Senegalese girlfriend Zainab (Danai Gurira). It is a friendship that is to change Vale in surprising ways.
With his follow up to The Station Agent, writer and director Thomas McCarthy’s contrives to take the most unpromising and cliché smeared elements – pious rich white guy, an epiphany, kindly immigrants, African funk music and faceless bureaucracy – and turn it in to tear jerk gold.
Beautifully performed by all involved The Visitor is a sentimental and fairly contrived drama that, like Tarek, manages to access a hypnotic rhythm that is both convincing and reassuring.
Shot through with a soft focus ennui borrowed from Hal Ashby and more recently Sean Penn (as director) The Visitor is really just another tale from the city about a grief stricken stiff who recovers through connection. Kieslowski, whose Three Colours: Blue really set the template for this kind of thing, would have done it differently. But then he knew little of insurgency hysteria or Fela Kuti.
Selected release from Fri 4 Jul.