FROM MY OWN PRIVATE COLLECTION "The Visitor" (2008)
As far as character actors go, Richard Jenkins is one of the most talented around today. And just in case you missed what he did in Six Feet Under, North Country and virtually everything else he's been in, what he does here might be his best stuff to date, evident in his well-deserved first Academy Award nomination.
Great as the lead is, the movie manages to keep you engaged for other reasons as well. The story is a good one, following a recently widowed, aloof college professor who finds two illegal aliens, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and Zainab (Danai Jekesai Gurira), living in his New York apartment.
The three eventually become friends after Walter allows for the couple to stay until they're housing situation is worked out. It would have been nice to see anyone welcome people into their home with such open arms, but with someone as antisocial as Walter, the gesture feels much more heartfelt.
While it is sad when Tarek is arrested, the upside is that we're introduced to Tarek's mother, Mouna (Hiam Abbass). As soon as she comes on screen, Abbass has an undeniable screen presence that threatens to steal the spotlight away from Jenkins.
The actors' chemistry makes for one of the film's many highlights. Yet even with the table set for an ideal match (both are widows), the story avoids stepping into the realm of predictability, thanks to writer/director Thomas McCarthy's original screenplay.
It's hard to single out one thing from the film that works best. Jenkins is interesting enough to watch on his own, but his interaction with Sleiman is fun to watch, particularly in the early stages of Walter's drum lessons. By the same token, Jenkins and Abbass mesh so well as lonely adults, it takes no effort at all to picture them together.
And yet, Walter and Zainab definitely have the most complicated, interesting relationship, and from a viewer's perspective, that's always a good thing. Watch the film for yourself (I'd recommend Blu-ray, because it looks amazing), and you'll see what I mean.
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