Pros: Incredible story of human reconnection. Oscar worthy performances.
Cons: None. Really.
The Visitor (2007) Directed by Thomas McCarthy
Tarek Khalil: Oh sh*t! We have to get home! Zainab's gonna kill me, I'm on Arab time again.
Prof. Walter Vale: What is "Arab time"?
Tarek Khalil: It means I'm late by an hour. All Arabs are late by an hour, it's genetic, we can't help it.
Professor Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) is a study in grey. He is a man devoid of passion; this is delightfully illustrated by his piano lesson. The teacher, (Marian Seldes) when let go, lets him know with the same polite left-handed way that the problem is he is devoid of talent. After watching him five minutes, I figured him for a widower who has never figured out how to be alive without his wife. I was not wrong.
Walter does not care about his job. He does not want to be involved. But when his Co-author can't make a presentation, he is forced, absolutely forced, to go to New York to cover for her.
His apartment has a few surprises. Fresh flowers. Naked woman in the tub. Angry Arab intent on defending his home. It quickly becomes evident what is going on. Walter's apartment has been sublet by a scammer. The young couple, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and Sainab (Danai Gurira) proves to be nice, and immediately pack up to go. Yet Walter is strangely moved by them, and after a few false starts, invites them back, unable to throw them out on the streets in the night.
It is a rather awkward situation, but one that Walter finds strangely...stimulating. Tarek, a street musician, teaches him to play the drum. It is strangely liberating for Walter, and by degrees, he allows his life to become more enmeshed with his strange tenants. He plays drums, eats Sianab's cooking, and begins to feel human again. When watching this, I was reminded of the Todd Rundgren song, "I don't wanna work; I just wanna bang on the drum all day..."
And of course, therein lays the problem, when Tarek is detained by the Subway police for an innocent mistake. In our post 9/11 world, white folk are allowed innocent mistakes. Arabs have things sorted out down at the station. And of course, Tarek is illegal. So is Sainab, and so she can't even visit.
Nor can the fourth player in this drama, Tarek's mother, Mouna Khalil (Hiam Abbass). Also illegal, she knows she cannot see her son, but she can't leave New York either.
As the drama plays out, Walter is awakened ever more to the plight of the immigrant, the system that not only doesn't care, seems to be built to minimize caring. And he continues to awaken, in his quite little professorly way, putting more and more of himself out to help Tarek and his family.
The story isn't about Tarek and immigration; really, it is all about Walter. Richard Jenkins was nominated for an Oscar for the role. If I had not seen Milk, I would have said he was robbed. Jenkins has a gift for subtle; a movement of half an inch can convey so much in his hands; his appreciation of music is such a thing. Hiam Abbass also has that gift. She never says that her problem with staying in his apartment is they are man and woman, and not married, and she is Muslim. She does not have to say it. Her stance and glance all but scream it.
This is not a movie of action, or violence, or romance. It is a deep character study, and a worthy one. It reveals the side of immigration we rarely see, and portrays the other side of the Arab equation, the good people who are not wearing bombs for underwear, and it does it without preaching, just as part of the larger story.
For a story without sex, violence, or a definitive ending, it was amazingly moving and involving. I highly recommend it.
This is entered into the Captain D's Good Movie Write Off.