Friday, October 17, 2008

THE VISITOR (Thomas McCarthy, 2008, USA) Walter becomes a stranger in his own land and begins to march to the beat of a different drummer. A College professor whose last twenty years of routine and complacency has dulled his senses, the soft rhythm of the piano now a reminder of a dead past, a solemn funeral march that leads slowly to the grave…six feet under. When he discovers a young couple squatting in his NYC apartment, he forges a bond with them and selflessly decides to help, attempting to make amends for his life he considers wasting away. But it’s Tarek and Zainib who help Walter to become whole once again, to move forward and grasp the richness of life, to enjoy the subtle sounds and soft rains. Walter’s metaphorical link to his inescapable past is his wife’s piano, an instrument he could never master, that could not sing and breath through his hands; to Walter, it speaks the language of the dead. Tarek teaches him to play drums, to reprogram his mind and hands and let the blood pump through his veins and experience the deep gasping breaths of excitement. Walter is beginning to live once again. But Tarek is an illegal visitor in our country and is unfairly deported, tearing the lives of his fiancĂ©, mother, and Walter apart. Often, the law when applied in equal measure is unfair and unjust punishing all equally, like the printed Crimes Code in black and white text: there are no gradations of culpability, no unique circumstances, no individual appeals for clemency. Director Thomas McCarthy falls victim to the “Sundance Syndrome” and is compelled to write and photograph a rather formulaic narrative, a by-the-numbers ethnic drama whose plot-points are intuited beforehand. The film is interesting because of the great performances from Richard Jenkins and Haaz Sleiman; we feel that their mutual bond is natural and believable…though I admit a bit contrived. But McCarthy breaks with our expectations and delivers a sad and emotional ending, a lonely drumbeat submerged and drowned out by the clacking steel of the onrushing subway. (B)

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