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Visitor, The (DVD Review)

5 Oct, 2008 By: Brendan Howard

The Visitor

Street 10/7/08
Anchor Bay
Box Office $9.4 million
$29.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for brief strong language.
Stars Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira, Hiam Abbass.

In a post-9/11 world in which America is sometimes afraid of outsiders and foreigners, The Visitor asks us to explore what it’s like for people who find themselves on the wrong side of immigration law.

Good people slip through the cracks in the law, sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly, and find themselves inadvertent criminals. This film’s sympathies are with the scared men, women and children fleeing persecution or grotesquely impoverished countries to find opportunity in America, even if they have to hide from the law to do it.

The white, privileged male who acts as our eyes and ears is the depressed, widowed college professor Walter (Jenkins). When he leaves the suburbs for his city apartment on an academic errand, he unexpectedly — and violently — meets a young couple, Tarek and Zainab (Sleiman and Gurira), living in his apartment and paying rent to a scam artist. They agree to leave, but Walter’s heart is heavy with their homelessness. So he asks them to stay.

Friendships blossom, cross-cultural understanding is fostered, and Walter comes out of his morose shell to play the African drum, the djembe, with the handsome musician Tarek. Music brings new excitement and fulfillment for Walter.

Then a fateful arrest is made, and this strange trio’s pleasant friendship is tested. Soon, Walter is drawn into a painful drama of officers’ racist suspicions and cruel bureaucracy that deports illegal immigrants back to countries they fled out of fear for lack of a green card.

The Visitor commands sympathy for human beings who happen to be illegal immigrants, a subset in the news that often lacks a voice on the American stage. It’s well acted and well paced, and an eye-opening experience for those who think of immigration only as an issue on the nightly news.

DVD extras include a making-of featurette, a featurette on the djembe, deleted scenes, and commentary with director Tom McCarthy (of the admirable Station Agent) and Jenkins.

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