It's through a very different instrument that Walter reconnects with the world outside, though. He's shuffled off to New York to present a paper he didn't actually write at an economics conference, and when he strolls into an old apartment he hadn't stepped foot inside in ages, he finds two immigrants holed up inside. Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and his Senegalese girlfriend Zainab (Danai Gurira) aren't the squatters they look to be at first glance, and after some polite but uncomfortable shuffling around on both sides, Walter invites them to stay with him while they seek out a new home. Zainab is leery about Walter, but the unwaveringly cheerful Tarek warms to him instantly. The two of them bond over Tarek's djembe, and for the first time in years, a smile once again creeps across Walter's face. Even feeling impulsive enough to join in on a drum circle, Walter feels as if he's part of something again. That rekindled spark is snuffed out when a misunderstanding sends Tarek into a detention center for illegal immigrants, and the faceless bureaucracy holding him captive seems impenetrable despite Walter's most impassioned efforts.
Don't cynically shrug The Visitor off as preaching about a hot button topic, though. The movie certainly leans in that direction, if only briefly, but much like writer/director Tom McCarthy's The Station Agent, this is a film that's ultimately about kindness...about friendships...about people with seemingly little in common forming some sort of unlikely connection.
As familiar as the skeleton of its plot may sound, The Visitor veers
McCarthy and Jenkins masterfully weave together Walter's personality and backstory throughout The Visitor's first act. Rather than lean on rushed narration or heavy-handed exposition, Walter is pieced together in fragments that gradually take a greater shape. Jenkins is such an immediately engaging presence that Walter is compelling before we even know who he is. It's no small feat to make a character so wholly disinterested in everyone and everything this compelling, and watching his lagging passion once again sputter back to life is infectious. The film's supporting cast may not have nearly the sprawling filmography that Jenkins does, but their performances are every bit as memorable, with relative newcomer Haaz Sleiman's turn as Tarek standing out as particularly confident and accomplished. I'm also impressed by how deftly music is integrated into the story -- relating the connection between a man and an instrument to people in general, the way music can bridge the distant past and the promise of tomorrow, and how a spark of creativity can reinvigorate someone trapped by disinterest, cold numbers, and routine. The Visitor is a wonderful character study about rekindled hope and the unlikely connections that make life worthwhile, and it's a rewarding discovery on Blu-ray.
Video: Despite the slight
Audio: The Visitor boasts a 24-bit, six-channel PCM soundtrack. The sound design isn't terribly aggressive -- this is, after all, a dialogue-driven film that frequently takes place in quiet interiors -- but when the film calls for it, the front-heavy mix spreads out comfortably into each of the channels at its fingertips. The rears are much more pronounced whenever The Visitor steps out into the bustling streets of New York, and the drum circle and Walter's first listen to one of Tarek's favorite CDs also take advantage of the multichannel setup. For a film so heavily anchored around percussion -- especially a drum as full-bodied as the djembe -- bass response is rather light. Even the roar of the subway barely coaxes much of a rumble from the subwoofer. It's not an adventurous mix, no, but the film's dialogue is reproduced cleanly and clearly, and some care clearly went into fleshing out color in the surround channels. The Visitor's uncompressed audio is uneventful but fine.
A Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack has also been included alongside subtitle streams in English (SDH) and Spanish.
Extras: The Visitor is disappointingly
McCarthy and Jenkins also offer optional commentary over a handful of short deleted scenes. It's additional color -- pleasant but inessential -- including Walter meeting one of Tarek's friends and another scene with an awkward neighbor played by Richard Kind. The reel runs just shy of three and a half minutes in total.
"An Inside Look at The Visitor" (5 min.) is a straightahead promotional piece, and like most EPKs, all this featurette really does is recap the plot in between lengthy excerpts from the movie. There are a few cursory comments about the characters, but there's not much insight for anyone who's already watched the movie from start to finish. The disc's other featurette is "Playing the Djembe" (8 min.), which opens by noting the dominance of this drum in West African music before delving into the instrument's influence on the writing of the screenplay, how McCarthy and two of his actors learned to play it, and noting how Haaz Sleiman mastered the drum well enough to keep up ably with two seasoned jazz musicians.
Also included is The Visitor's theatrical trailer, and it, like all of the extras on this disc, is presented in standard definition and anamorphic widescreen.
Conclusion: Thoughtful, heartfelt, and brilliantly understated, The Visitor shrugs off familiar conventions in favor of a simple story about a long-dimmed spark of life rekindled by unlikely bonds. While its low-key soundtrack and lean set of extras may be underwhelming, the honesty and deceptive simplicity of the story, the strength of its performances, and a wonderful high definition presentation make this sophomore effort by writer/director Tom McCarthy a worthy discovery on Blu-ray. Highly Recommended.