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Walter (Richard Jenkins) is a disaffected college professor who has been drifting aimlessly through his life. When, in a chance encounter on a trip into New York, Walter discovers a couple has taken up residence in his apartment in the city, he develops an unexpected and profound connection to them that will change his life forever. As challenges arise for his tenants Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and Zainab (Danai Gurira), Walter finds himself compelled to help his new friends, and rediscovers a passion he thought he had lost long ago.
For more about The Visitor and the The Visitor Blu-ray release, see the The Visitor Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on October 3, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Richard Jenkins, Hiam Abbass, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira, Marian Seldes, Richard Kind
Director: Thomas McCarthy
» See full cast & crew
The Visitor Blu-ray Review
Allow this film to pay a visit to your Blu-ray collection.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, October 3, 2008
I pretend that I'm busy, that I'm working, that I'm writing. I'm not doing anything.
The Visitor is a story about making a difference, but it is a story grounded in reality, a reality that says sometimes making a difference is not enough. It's the tale of two worlds colliding, where fear becomes acceptance, where acceptance becomes friendship, where friendship becomes a lifetime bond of the spirit. Spirit is the theme of the film, of allowing one's spirit to soar, to shine through, and to never be hidden away again. It is a rare film that sets out not to entertain, not to inform, and not to preach. What it does is simply tell a tale of opening up, of accepting others, or looking inside for a special gift, and accepting that gift rather than shunning it when it is presented. It's about an opportunity to be something more, to live and work for a purpose, rather than, as the character Walter Vale says in the quote above, "not doing anything." The Visitor raises the question, "who is the visitor?" Perhaps, as we may be led to believe throughout the film, we are all visitors, visitors to this life, to what we do, to who we think we are. Perhaps we are merely visiting ourselves while in search of some greater purpose outside of the mundane, outside of the nonchalance, outside of the "nothing" we so often call life.
Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins, The Kingdom) is a lonely widower, classical music lover, and a college professor in Connecticut with a penchant for fine wine, living out a dull, depressed life with no meaning and certainly no spirit. When he is assigned to attend a conference in New York City, he returns to his apartment of 25 years only to find two illegal immigrants -- Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and Zainab (Danai Jekesai Gurira) -- living there. After a brief confrontation, calm heads prevail, the situation is resolved, and Tarek and Zainab gather their belongings and leave. Walter feels compelled to follow, returning a picture they left behind and offering them the shelter of his apartment while they search for a new home. Walter's ear for music slowly becomes attuned to the beats of Tarek's West African Djembe drum, and the pair form a strong bond of friendship thanks to their mutual love for the instrument and music. When Tarek is arrested and detained in a nondescript prison for illegal aliens, Walter leaves his former life behind to do all he can to free his friend.
The Visitor tells a story that is left incomplete, but therein lies its point. The film leaves audiences in search of their own answers, looking inside themselves for the meaning of the film and of the reality-driven story contained therein. The fact that no one character's arc is resolved is the reason why the film works as well as it does. That's life, in a nutshell. People come and go, for their own reasons or for those of others, justly or not, and sometimes it's all one can do to move on, to embrace the memories of those no longer with us, to live a life inspired by what they brought to it, and live for another, brighter day. The Visitor is an emotionally-charged film with a powerful message that never feels overt, forced, or politically charged, despite the fact that the film's central story line could be taken as such. It is so well integrated into the film that it is impossible not to become invested in the lives of the characters. It is the tale of the bond of friendship across cultural lines; of taking a dull, meaningless life and working to instead make a difference; and of love, the emotional and spiritual bond between people who choose to open up in the name of kindness and friendship rather than close the door for hate, distrust, or anger.
The Visitor is a melancholic, poignant picture, and director Thomas McCarthy has effortlessly captured the essence of the story from a visual perspective. His shots are to-the-point and always seem to convey the emotions of the film, on a scene-by-scene basis, with the same rhythm and heart as the characters and indeed, as the musical instruments they play. The film is also masterfully brought to life thanks to the first-rate acting of the entire spectrum of primary and secondary actors, from Richard Jenkins down the guard behind the window at the detention facility. Every performance is natural and honest, the key to success for a human drama such as The Visitor. The film creates Walter Vale's world vividly and without any reservations, showcasing the depressed, detached state through which he lives his life. Even as his conference begins and he is surrounded by his colleagues, he fails to connect with anyone, and the varied visuals of his semi-depressed state, combined with the film's sorrowful music aids in conveying to audiences his nearly complete isolation. This well-crafted set-up makes his connection and subsequent bonding with Tarek, Zainab, and Mouna all the more worthy of the themes of the story. Walter is not a happy-go-lucky, life-of-the-party type; he's the very definition of a loner, and the story only works thanks to the film's brilliant portrayal of his character's progression from loner to friend to champion of a cause that he never had to be a part of.
The Visitor Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Visitor comes home to Blu-ray with a 1080p, 1.85:1-framed transfer. The print exhibits some speckles, but the image is strong on the whole. Detail is more than adequate. Vale's office at the university looks realistic and settled, as one may clearly make out all of the books on the shelf and the various trinkets on his desk. In a subsequent shot, viewers can see the finer details of his kitchen. The transfer never backs away from being sharp and clear, with nice attention to every detail both in the foreground and in the background, where the image rarely goes soft. The Visitor is a movie that is simply a pleasure to behold for its simplistic yet engaging approach, and the strong transfer only makes it better. Colors are lifelike in most every frame. The film's lighting scheme is just a bit dim in places, but is never a hinderance to the transfer. Black levels are decent but not overly impressive. The film retains a hint of grain, though most of it is seen over the darkest scenes of the film. Flesh tones are natural in reproduction. The Visitor is another solid transfer from Starz.
The Visitor Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Visitor is far from being a sonic marvel, but the film's reserved soundtrack comes to well-rendered life thanks to the accompanying PCM 5.1 uncompressed soundtrack. Dialogue is sharp and precise, and the track is very front heavy. The various Djembe beats and other musical numbers shine through nicely with a wide open presence and an easygoing and precise room-filling sound. Various segments of the score blend nicely into the rears, the only time the back channels really come alive during the film. There is little in the way of environmental atmospherics in the film. Much of it takes place indoors with little to no need to reproduce anything but the basics of the soundtrack, the dialogue, and the score. The Visitor is not the sort of film that was made to engross listeners with an engaging soundtrack, and the presentation here befits the mood of the film.
The Visitor Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Visitor arrives bearing several supplements for your viewing pleasure. First is a commentary track featuring writer/director Thomas McCarthy and actor Richard Jenkins. This track is the highlight of the supplements. McCarthy discusses the importance of the "pace and tone" of the film, some of the obstacles to shooting (such as a parade of trick-or-treaters interfering with some shots), the film's set design, and more. It's not as serious as expected, coming off as more laid back with McCarthy, at one point, poking fun at Jenkins for not offering up much in the way of comments, but both do manage to make for a rather good track. Playing the Djembe (480p, 7:48) is a piece that examines this West African instrument of choice that is prominently featured in the film. The piece is better than your average studio fluff; the cast and crew who are interviewed for the piece provide meaningful and intelligent insight in an approachable manner. The piece is worth watching as a fine, albeit short, accompaniment to the film. An Inside Look at 'The Visitor' (480p, 4:48) is a fairly basic piece where the cast and crew look at the themes and story line of the film. Lastly, viewers are treated to deleted scenes (480p, 3:22) with optional director and actor commentary and the film's trailer (480p, 2:32).
The Visitor Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Through its powerful final shot, The Visitor leaves its story incomplete in the context of a traditional narrative, but it serves as a fitting ending to this particular tale. Leaving nothing resolved, save for the newfound resolve of Walter Vale, the film leaves audiences to only imagine the fate of its characters: where they go; how they live their lives; what they fight for; who they meet; how they continue in their struggles; and how, if ever, they continue on with the strong bond that they have created, a bond that is left stretched to its limits by forces outside of their control, but never able to be completely broken. The Visitor is simple yet powerful filmmaking at its finest, telling a tale that yearns to be told, but also one that many viewers may greet in a myriad of ways. No matter your reaction to the film's portrayal of illegal immigration, there is no denying the theme of heartfelt friendship and its importance in the face of adversity, from a simple misunderstanding over who is the rightful tenant of an apartment to the incarceration of an illegal immigrant. The Visitor is an extremely well-made and acted film, a thoughtful and profound piece that sets out not to entertain or even necessarily inform, but to simply tell a tale that is deemed worth telling, and is one worth your attention. Starz presents The Visitor as a fairly average Blu-ray package. With a solid video transfer, a fitting PCM soundtrack, and a few extras, the disc won't be sold on its technical merits but on the strength of the story told therein. For those seeking deeper, emotionally-charged cinema, look no further than The Visitor. Recommended.
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