Last Year In Film: The Visitor by Jamie

Well I managed to survive the first round of Razzie nominations and it certainly feels good to get back to films with a certain touch of class about them after the likes of ‘Disaster Movie’ and ‘The Love Guru’ and it turns out that ‘The Visitor’ is a very fine film to come back to quality cinema with.

Now I must admit that I had heard about this film some time ago but then I completely forgot about it and, when I came to seeing this I had absolutely no idea what it was. I’d kinda hoped it might have been some kind of sci-fi alien film kinda thing. Or maybe something about a time traveller from a dystopian future. That’d be cool. But as the film went on I remembered what I’d heard about it and realised what it was and I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. I haven’t seen a good sci-fi film since District 9 and that was just over a week ago now. Still I pressed on and watched the film. And wow, was my disappointment completely unfounded.

The story is that of a lonely widowed college economics professor, Walter, who travels to his old apartment in New York in order to present a co-authored paper at a conference only to discover a an immigrant couple living there. Now in the beginning of the film Walter is a, well he’s not exactly a mean man, more an indifferent man, a man who views other human beings in the same way he might view an unfamiliar dog or perhaps a shifty eyed cat. Damn unfamiliar dogs and shifty eyed cats. Unfamiliar dogs and shifty eyed cats killed my parents. True story. Except it isn’t.

Anyway Walter’s life is pretty much turned upside down for the better through the influence of these immigrants, in particular Tarek who begins to teach Walter how to play an African drum, invites him to watch him play at  a Jazz club and takes him to play in a drum circle at what I can only assume is Central Park because I don’t know the name of any other parks in New York.

Walter’s new friendship is threatened all of a sudden when Tarek is arrested at a subway station and taken to a detention centre as an illegal immigrant. Soon Mouna, Tarek’s mother, shows up at Walter’s apartment when she becomes worried that her son hasn’t contacted her in some time. Walter soon begins a friendship with her as well as he tries as hard as he can to get Tarek freed.

The film is steeped with messages regarding the changes in attitude towards illegal immigrants, particularly those of Middle Eastern descent since the events of the 11th of September, 2001. It portrays a rather aggressive Department of Immigration Control treating their detainees as little more than cattle, keeping them locked in a building with no outside area, the closest being a room with no roof. They also randomly move their prisoners to other facilities throughout the country or even have them deported seemingly on a whim without alerting their lawyers.

Despite this definitely being a message film it also has a great story which the message really serves as background for. At the end of the day the tale is about Walter and how his experience with Tarek, his girlfriend Zainab and his mother Mouna all affect his life and, in a way, teach him how to view other people as human beings again.

There are a number of times when the movie strayed dangerously close to being a feel good, mushy story and about an hour through I thought I’d pretty much figured out exactly what was going to happen only to be surprised when the story took a different route, one I certainly wasn’t expecting and that’s definitely a good thing.

The acting is superb with Richard Jenkins as Walter truly making the character and his development absolutely believable and Hiam Abbass is awesome as Mouna, portraying a strong woman who’s absolutely heartbroken at the fact that she can’t even visit her son for fear of being arrested herself and the fact that her sons situation reminds her of her husband’s own predicament as a journalist in Syria, arrested for an article he wrote.

Overall I give this film four pints out of five and I heartily, heartily recommend it. Watch it damn it! Laterz.

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