The Visitor
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Ben Franklin once said that fish and visitors stink in three days—but, contrary to Ben’s old proverb, it takes less than an hour for this Visitor to start getting a bit musty.

Since the death of his wife, college professor Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) has just been going through the motions. He’s flying under the radar—half-heartedly teaching only one class, with the excuse that teaching more would take away from the time he needs to spend writing his next book.

When he’s forced to head to New York to present a paper that he sponsored, Walter arrives at the apartment he keeps in the city, only to find a young couple living there. Seeing that they have nowhere to go, Walter lets the couple—Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and Zainab (Danai Gurira)—stay until they can find a new place. Walter quickly develops a friendship with the drum-playing Tarek—so when Tarek is arrested and discovered to be an illegal alien, Walter decides to fight for his new friend.

In the beginning, The Visitor is a lightly dramatic story about a life-changing friendship. Though Jenkins gives a somewhat choppy and awkward performance as the quiet, straight-laced professor (and it’s only made worse by the somewhat choppy and awkward dialogue), the relationship that his character begins to build with the vibrant Syrian immigrant, Tarek, is an interesting one—especially once Tarek starts teaching Walter to play the drum. The music is infectious, and the story is lively and engaging. That part, however, is over much too soon, and it quickly gives way to a slow and somewhat heavy story about the plight of an illegal alien.

Once Tarek is sent away to a detention center, everything falls apart for The Visitor. The pace lags, and the story just doesn’t go anywhere. It becomes all too clear that the characters—and their relationships—weren’t developed well enough to make the audience really care about what happens to them. Although, in the beginning of the film, Walter seems to be an interesting character—one with all kinds of potential for growth—he’s just too dull and awkward to carry the film. And even though I knew I was supposed to care about Tarek’s cause, I really didn’t—though perhaps that’s just because I happen to be married to an alien who got into the country the legal way.

Although it starts out as a spirited story about a stuffy college professor whose new friend helps to bring him back to life, The Visitor hits a brick wall about halfway through—and it never manages to pick itself back up. The brightness and energy of Walter and Tarek’s drum circles in the park turn into the drab interior of the detention center’s visiting room, and the lively, hopeful spirit of the first half of the film turns into the despair of the second half.

When it’s all over, the main character may have grown a bit from the experience, but it’s just too little, too late. By then, you’ll be too bored to care.

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