Tuesday, August 5, 2008

"the vistor" movie review

pat and i went to see "the visitor" last weekend. while i wanted to see this film, we had actually gone to the theatre to see "tell no one," a suspense thriller. but because of a misprinted start time, "tell no one" had already begun, hence our unplanned visit to "the visitor," a quiet drama with a beat. regardless of the circumstances that led us to this particular film, "the visitor" is well-worth the trip on its own merits.

in fact, the visitor is one of those cute titles which can go either way. the protagonist is a middle-aged widower from connecticut who sleepwalks through teaching assignments as an economics professor and has no visible signs of life when we are introduced to him. he is literally forced (by the administration) to take a trip into nyc to make a presentation of a paper he co-authored in name only at an economics conference. thus, the visit to the pied-a-terre he and his late wife own in the city.

the apartment, he abruptly discovers, is occupied by a couple who believes they have, in fact, legitimately rented the premises. after they have packed-up and find themselves out on the street making phone calls to find a place to stay in the middle of the night, walter offers to let them stay until they can find substitute housing. from this point onward, walter and tarek eventually befriend each other - thru drumming on zarek's djembe.

zarek is eventually picked up by the police in a subway station for what they claim is turnstile jumping. this occurs in walter's very presence looking on meekly. this pivotal scene can be seen as a metaphor of the kind-hearted soul, helpless in the face of unchecked and unmerciful authority. the irony of this horrible situation can't be lost on those who caught the opening scene of walter mercilessly dismissing one of his students at the start of the film. the student wanted to hand in a late assignment and walter, not interested in his proffered explanations, said there was nothing he could do, "rules are rules."

to his credit walter hires legal counsel for zarek once he is moved from police headquarters to a non-descript ins prison in queens. he and zainab, tarek's girlfriend, struggle to keep up hope that tarek will eventually be released. zainab, also here illegally, cannot visit tarek. once more walter takes on the role of visitor as he makes daily pilgrimages to the ins prison to check on tarek. and, in a twist, zainab is soon replaced (when she moves out of the apartment to stay with friends), by mouna, tarek's mother. mouna arrive from michigan in search of tarek when she can no longer reach him on his cell phone.

this is the third visitor to walter's life. the cumulative result of having befriended these three individuals has profound consequences on walter - the most visible is his new found voice thru drumming. but even more subtle changes such as food choice and mannerism (tapping his fingers to the beat during meetings) pervade. while the outcome for tarek is tragic (a sudden deportation back to syria), the tone is hardly morose. the unresolved ending is, in itself, symbolic of the lack of meaningful answers to that particular dilemma.

i would recommend this movie without reservation. it certainly rises to the level of an oscar contender (but not sure about winner, however). it had a strange atmospheric that reminded me of the slow, deliberate pace of "ordinary people." there were a few false notes - at one point walter mentioned he had a son who lived in london?! want was that about (and for)? and the friendship between him and zarek developed much too quickly. but those are small points in an otherwise incredibly well-acted film.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I caught The Visitor when it was in theaters, and it was one of my favorite films of the whole year! Richard Jenkins from Six Feet Under was outstanding, and the message of friendship throughout the movie was very powerful. The Visitor will be released on DVD October 7th, and I definitely plan on buying it. If you haven't seen the movie yet, you can find more info here: thevisitorfilm.com