Bil’s rating (out of 5): B.5. USA, 2007. Groundswell Productions, Next Wednesday Productions, Participant Media. Screenplay by Tom McCarthy. Cinematography by Oliver Bokelberg. Produced by Michael London, Mary Jane Skalski, John Woldenberg. Music by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek. Production Design by John Paino. Costume Design by Melissa Toth. Film Editing by Tom McArdle. Academy Awards 2007. Gotham Awards 2008. Independent Spirit Awards 2008. Toronto International Film Festival 2007.
Richard Jenkins is a Connecticut college professor whose work has dwindled down to one class a year, presumably to allow him time to work on a book that he hasn’t touched in years. When a colleague asks him to go to New York to present a paper that they co-authored, he balks at the opportunity, but eventually relents. Arriving at the apartment he keeps in the Big Apple, he discovers a couple squatting there, the man a Syrian immigrant and the woman from Senegal, both of them undocumented. Jenkins asks them to leave, but when he realizes that they have nowhere else to go he allows the couple to stay with him until they can find another home. He eventually becomes closely knit with both of them, the situation escalating when the man is arrested and sent to a detention centre for illegal immigrants. Thomas McCarthy’s follow-up to his wonderful The Station Agent is an unfortunate turn in the opposite direction: where his previous film had whimsy and nuance, The Visitor‘s message hits you over the head with the subtlety of a burning sledgehammer. All aspects of the struggles of citizenship in America are presented without complexity or intelligence, most of the dramatic situations are contrived, and even the quiet performances come off pretentious and arch. The irony that a country that was created by immigration being so unfriendly to newcomers is not lost on the director, but he’s far too busy patting himself on the back for his liberal attitude to bother with a captivating or challenging execution.