For a political drama to succeed, its characters must rise above its message, and the “The Visitor” pays heed to this rule. The film brims with anger over U.S. immigration policy with characters that we can’t help but feel for. By the time the film abruptly switches from quiet understatement to overbearing didacticism, we already care enough about its characters that we don’t mind.
Richard Jenkins stars as widowed college professor with no sympathy for his students who finds friendship with a pair of immigrants in New York when he travels there for a conference. He meets the couple under odd circumstances—they’d been living in his New York City apartment, unbeknownst to him, while he was in Connecticut. Someone rented it to them under false pretenses. After sending them on their way, he realizes that they have no place to go and invites them back in. Soon, learning to play African drums and making the first real friends he has in a longtime.
Writer/director Thomas McCarthy displays the same knack for emotionally connected, well-acted performances as he did in his last work, “The Station Agent.” Jenkins beautifully portrays his reserved, quiet, stern old character as he rediscovers the will to care about something again. Even if he starts caring in an over-obvious matter, it’s a start.