There is a scene in "The Lord of the Rings," at the very end, after the Shire has been scoured, where St. JRR writes this:
The Northfarthing barley was so fine that the beer of 1420 malt was long remembered and became a byword. Indeed a generation later one might hear an old gaffer in an inn, after a good pint of well-earned ale, put down his mug with a sigh: ‘Ah! that was proper fourteen-twenty, that was!’
This is how I feel about movies in 2008. A hundred years from now, people may think "Wow, what a great year for movies! It's a regular 2008!" And amid all of the SLUMDOGs, DARK KNIGHTS, and WALL-Es, there's a quiet little film that didn't get too much buzz. But it's good. Oh, boy, it's good.
THE VISITOR has no pretention. It's a movie about a sixty-something college professor named Walter Vale who lives alone since the death of his wife. He lives in Connecticut, but still keeps an apartment in NYC, although he hasn't visited it since his wife passed away. When he's called to New York for a conference, he's surprised to find that a young couple is living in his apartment. Tarek, a Syrian musician, and Zainab, his Senegalese girlfriend, are scared to death that Walter will call the police for two reasons. First, they don't want to go to jail. Secondly, they are in the US illegally. Walter's response to the two of them is the beginning of his story.
Strangely, this is a coming of age movie. And while coming of age movies are hardly rare, it is quite unusual to find one about a sixty year old. Tarek and Walter begin a friendship based solely on necessity (on Tarek's part) and loneliness (on the part of Walter). Tarek plays the Djembe and Walter, who desperately wants to express himself in some way, latches onto it. It becomes not only an outlet for Walter, but also a symbol. It's a symbol of injustice and inequality, and it's a symbol of humanness.
As their unlikely friendship deepens, a tragic circumstance befalls Tarek and Zainab (which I won't reveal here), and Walter is given a choice. It's a choice to return to safe, quiet, Connecticut where he can finish his book in peace, or he can stay in New York and fight - even if fighting is the last thing he's capable of. Walter is presented with the question that we all find ourselves struggling with sooner or later: "This is injustice. What do I do? Shrink or fight?"
There are some politics in THE VISITOR, but it's not a political movie. It's a movie about a guy who is a visitor in his own home.
Richard Jenkins (nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for this performance) is a face you'll know. He's a "That Guy." He's got 84 credits on IMDB, and I guarantee you've seen a bunch of them. But in this, he shines. There is no makeup to cover the pock marks on his face and no histrionics to demand Oscar voters' attention. He's just a guy, playing another guy. He won't win that Oscar - "That Guy" never does. But maybe he should. This is one of the most touching and real performances that I've seen in a long time.
THE VISITOR gets 4 and a half African Princesses out of 5.