Moving, Dramatic Film 
(one of the Best Films of '08)

Now available on DVD

Danai Jekesai Gurira, Hiam Abbass and Richard Jenkins in THE VISITOR
Photo courtesy of Overture Films 


Special to FILMS FOR TWO®
by Sharon and Alan Waldman

We have seen a number of fine films so far in 2008, including THE BAND’S VISITTHE BANK JOB, PRICELESS, ROMAN DE GARE, IN BRUGES and IRAQ FOR SALE: THE WAR PROFITEERS, but the best by far (through September 10—our 13th wedding anniversary) is THE VISITOR, a subtle, surprising, insightful, highly contemporary drama from outstanding second-time writer-director Thomas McCarthy. He won the Independent Spirit Award, the Best Original Screenplay BAFTA and 10 more major awards—along with nine other nominations—for his brilliant first film THE STATION AGENT. The film itself garnered another nine awards and 11 noms.

So far, THE VISITOR, has won five awards (including two Best Actor honors for Richard Jenkins and a Best Supporting Actress award for Danai Jekesai Gurira)—but many, many more are sure to follow.

As of today’s date, 92% of the critics surveyed at Rottentomatoes.com gave THE VISITOR, very positive reviews, while a remarkable 93.7% of 1,874 viewers who evaluated it at The Internet Movie Database gave it positive ratings, with 23% rating it a perfect 10 out of 10. It did well (7.7 or higher out of 10) with all demographic groups, especially girls 17 and younger (9.5), women 45 and older (8.5) and men 45 and older (8.3). THE VISITOR opened in North America on April 11, and after 22 weeks in U.S. theatres it had earned $9,359,138, through September 7, when it was still playing on 58 screens. The DVD comes out on October 7, 2008.

Richard Jenkins and Haaz Sleiman

The film is anchored by an outstanding, highly Oscar-worthy performance by lesser-known character actor Richard Jenkins. He was previously nominated for a SAG award for SIX FEET UNDER and for an Independent Spirit Best Supporting Male Award for FLIRTING WITH DISASTER. Jenkins has performed in 79 movies and TV projects over the past 34 years, including CHANGING LANES, THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, I HEART HUCKABEES, THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK, SILVERADO, SEA OF LOVE and this year’s BURN AFTER READING.

The film’s outstanding cast also includes Danai Jekesai Gurira, who won MethodFest Best supporting actress for THE VISITOR and who performs in the 2009 Edie Falco-starring TV movie Nurse Jackie. Gurira is also a playwright, whose drama Eclipsed deals with women caught in the conflict in Liberia. Her VISITOR co-stars are Haaz Sleiman (American Dreamz and three episodes of 24), Michael Cumpsty (FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, THE ICE STORM and 13 episodes of L.A. LAW) and acclaimed Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass (who earned five noms for films including THE SYRIAN BRIDE, ETZ LIMON, and LE PAIN and who performed in 42 films, including MUNICH, SATIN ROUGE and PARADISE NOW).

In THE VISITOR, Jenkins plays humorless 62-year-old Walter Vale, a disillusioned Connecticut economics professor whose life is transformed by a chance encounter in New York City. 

Vale has lost his passion for teaching and writing, so he is sleepwalking through his humdrum life. He goes through four piano teachers, attempting to learn the instrument on which his late wife was a virtuoso, until the final one mercifully offers to buy the piano from him. He is neither sympathetic nor likable in the first third of the movie.

Walter reluctantly agrees to go to a conference at New York University to deliver a paper he claims to have "co-authored," compelled by the urging of his department chairman (Cumpsty) as well as his debt to the woman who actually wrote it.

When he arrives at the Greenwich Village apartment he's kept as a pied-a-terre for decades but rarely used, Walter is shocked to find it occupied by two illegal immigrants: Senegalese jeweler Zainab (Gurira) and her Syrian musician boyfriend Tarek (Sleiman). They have rented it from a con man who assumed its owner would never show.

Walter and Mouna visit Zainab’s jewelry stand

Walter boots them out, but when he sees them on the street and realizes they have nowhere to go, he invites them to stay with him. Touched by his kindness, Tarek teaches the aging academic to play the African drum. As their friendship develops, the differences in culture, age and temperament fall away. 

After a while, Tarek's lovely widowed mother Mouna (Abbass) visits New York and unexpectedly helps bring Walter alive. 

We will not spoil the film by giving away any of its remarkable surprises, but it is fair to say that as the story moves into new territory its demands deepen and enrich Walter’s character and humanity.
(Alan): THE VISITOR is a terrific film, beautifully written and directed by McCarthy and flawlessly performed by its superb cast. It moves subtly, with wonderful detail, quietly sneaking up on us until it suddenly changes direction and blows our minds. 

The part of Walter was written for Jenkins, and he wears it like a second skin, never making the slightest deviation from his character. The film is much more realistic and believable than most rival movies released in 2008. All its character relationships are richly developed, and the last third of the movie is very compelling and dramatic, as Walter, Tarek, Mouna and Zainab come to grips with frustrating, challenging and maddening situations.

This is what I go to the cinema for: intelligent, surprising, realistic, dramatic and touching character interaction and storytelling, and I recommend this film to you wholeheartedly.

Haaz Sleiman in THE VISITOR

(Sharon): When this film begins, the widowed professor is so depressed and dreary that we in the audience, like his fourth piano teacher, decide he is hopeless; we dread watching a movie about him. Then when Tarek and Zainab start to kindle his feelings, we are intrigued. How far will his sympathies go? Will his life affect theirs in a positive or negative way? Will they help him or hurt him? The answers to these questions are more complex and surprising than you can guess.

© Alan and Sharon Waldman (9/10/08) 


Alan “Froggie” Waldman and Sharon “Squeezy” Waldman are freelance writers and editors who, between them, have worked for TV GUIDE, SPORT MAGAZINE, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, TEXAS MONTHLY, BOATMASTER, Rodney Dangerfield and the fella who wrote the flicks PHENOMENON, SHARKY’S MACHINE and THE DEATH OF THE INCREDIBLE HULK, Gerald di Pego. After decades in lively L.A., they now live in happy semi-retirement and semi-consciousness in the tall trees just north of Corvallis, Oregon. They like to walk in the woods, watch smart movies and TV and amuse their tuxedo cat Winkie with colored straws. Alan harvests apples, plums, pears, blackberries and cherries (see photo) from their trees, and Sharon bakes them into pies and cobblers. Neither Sharon, Alan nor Winkie has ever produced any offspring, to the best of their recollections.