The Visitor

Rated 3.0

Writer-director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent) has fashioned a smart, moving portrait of a middle-aged burn-out struggling to re-start his life, and Richard Jenkins brings that character into vivid focus with an incisive and deftly understated performance. But there are three other very striking characters in The Visitor—a Syrian musician named Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and a Sengalese jewelry designer named Zainab (Danai Gurira), both of whom Walter Vale (Jenkins) finds living in his extra apartment, and Tarek’s handsomely authoritative mother Mouna (Hiam Abbass), who eventually comes looking for her son. Each of the three makes an appealing and significant impression in the film and on its central portrait, but McCarthy has designed these roles in ways that raise issues too large and insoluble for the fragile story of Walter to bear. Immigration issues, post-9/11 anxieties and hysteria, New York-style multiculturalism, the injustices of an age of terror—that great stew of hot-button topics adds both currency and urgency to the film, but it also leaves you wishing McCarthy had done more to make the immigrant characters more three-dimensional and less reduced to functions of dramatic convenience in the story of one man’s tentative, bittersweet renewal.