There will always be a place in American cinema for a small story that is well told. In 2003 Tom McCarthy gave us this with the exceptional The Station Agent. After a five year hiatus from directing, and a stint acting in The Wire its great to see McCarthy return with a sophomore film that in many ways exceeds his first, and quietly has a lot more to say.
The Visitor follows Walter Vale, a jaded academic who has been teaching the same economics course every year since the death of his wife. When Walter is forced to travel to New York for a conference on a paper he didn’t even write, his life is drastically altered when he discovers two illegal immigrants living in his apartment.
What could be mistaken for a film about a middle aged man learning how to live again is really much more. Both a beautifully acted drama about friendship and chance, as well as a political dissertation on immigration, The Visitor is a film which builds slowly to become greatly affecting. Its not until the inevitable happens that you realise how attached to the characters you have become. Particularly Richard Jenkin’s stunningly underplayed performance as Walter which deserved it’s recent Oscar nomination. Haaz Sleiman also provides a great turn as the irrepressibly likeable Tarek.
McCarthy further cements his status as a writer-director with obvious ability. The Visitor is a master-class in conventional cinematic language. McCarthy uses ellipsis and scene transitions with great skill to propel the narrative. While the plot is simple, it is so effectively told, and has enough comedic elements that it is never boring, conversely many of the events carry a latent intensity. Refreshingly, the film gives us an honest view of the sad reality of immigration in post 9-11 America, and never digresses from the truth to please audience expectations. Down to the moving last frame, The Visitor is a rock solid film from a filmmaker who is only getting better.