After a long absence, a lonely college professor returns to New York City (where he still maintains an apartment) to read a paper at a conference. But when he opens the door, he realizes that someone else lives there. Who are these people? And what’s the right thing to do? Kick them out? Very quickly, Walter is pulled into the life of an illegal immigrant couple.
It’s a story doesn’t always avoid the “stiff, reserved Northern American is loosened up through exposure to Third World liveliness” cliché, but Jenkins’ very concentrated, restrained performance rescues The Visitor again and again. He’s especially good when the plot takes a detour into a tender, budding love story, as Walter falls for the irresistibly elegant and reserved Mouna (Abbas, whose performance matches Jenkins’ step for step), the mother of one of his houseguests. But the vague hope that Walter’s life might take a turn for the better is cruelly crushed and, unfortunately, you will forget to have sympathy for him because you’re busy being annoyed by the preachy tone the film takes on toward the end. Underestimating your audience is never a good idea, but The Visitor is a valiant attempt to take on a subject that’s not part of the American public consciousness.
THE VISITOR (EIN SOMMER IN NEW YORK) (USA 2007) Directed by Thomas McCarthy with Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Jekesai Gurira, Hiam Abbass. Starts January 14. Rating: 2/4