Assignment #8 – “The Visitor”

When professor Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) travels to New York for a lecture, he’s stunned to find illegal immigrants Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and Zainab (Danai Gurira) living in his apartment. It comes out that it was rented to them by a swindler, and Vale feels sufficiently sorry for them that he invites them to stay. They get on well until Tarek is accused of jumping a subway turnstile and lands in a detention center. He risks being deported, and Vale does everything he can to prevent it. 

Below are quotes from various critics. What was your response to the film?

Critical reception

The Visitor received very positive reviews from critics and has a rating of 89% on Rotten tomatoes based on 116 reviews with an average rating of 7.6 out of 10. The consensus states “The Visitor is a heartfelt, humanistic drama that deftly explores identity, immigration, and other major post-9/11 issues.”[10] The film also has a score of 79 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 29 reviews.[11]

A.O. Scott of the New York Times observed, “The curious thing about The Visitor is that even as it goes more or less where you think it will, it still manages to surprise you along the way … It is possible to imagine a version of this story … that would be obvious and sentimental, an exercise in cultural condescension and liberal masochism. Indeed, it’s nearly impossible to imagine it any other way. And yet, astonishingly enough, Mr. McCarthy has. Much as The Station Agent nimbly evaded the obstacles of cuteness and willful eccentricity it had strewn in its own path, so does The Visitor, with impressive grace and understatement, resist potential triteness and phony uplift.”[12]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times rated the film 3½ out of four stars and called it “a wonderful film, sad, angry, and without a comforting little happy ending”. He added, “All four actors are charismatic, in quite different ways … Jenkins creates a surprisingly touching, very quiet, character study. Not all actors have to call out to us. The better ones make us call out to them.”[13]

Ruthe Stein of the San Francisco Chronicle said, “Devotees of The Station Agent will be relieved to know that writer-director Tom McCarthy gives no indication of a sophomore slump. His second film … is, if anything, more imaginative and touching than his first. McCarthy puts a mark on each film, identifying it as distinctly his own. A couple more like them, and he’ll be knighted an auteur … Jenkins’ multilevel performance is continually surprising … The part of Walter was written for [him], and he inhabits it like a second skin.”[14]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone rated the film 3½ out of four stars, calling it “a heartfelt human drama that sneaks up and floors you.” He described screenwriter/director McCarthy as “that rare talent who can work in miniature to reveal major truths [and] … is attuned to the nuances of behavior” and said “Jenkins delivers a master class in acting. Oscar, take note.”[15]

John Anderson of Variety said, “Some films click from the moment they’re cast, and that is certainly the case with The Visitor … a perfect vehicle for Richard Jenkins [who] … plays McCarthy’s transfigured hero to a tee … Visitor tilts toward the soulful rather than the political, and could be this year’s humanistic indie hit.”[16]

Peter Rainer of the Christian Science Monitor graded the film C+, criticizing Richard Jenkins’ “underpowered” performance and the film’s “squishy humanism.”[17]

The film was named best of the year by the Washington Post, the Charlotte Observer, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.[18] It also was cited as one of the year’s ten best by numerous publications, including the Chicago Reader,[18] the Philadelphia Inquirer,[18] the Seattle Post-Intelligencer,[18] The Hollywood Reporter,[18] The Wall Street Journal,[18] and the New York Post.[18]  Full review.


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