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Fans of actor-director Tom McCarthy's highly praised debut, THE STATION AGENT, will not be disappointed by his second film, a gentle drama about illegal immigration. At 62, Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) is sleepwalking through his quiet life as an economics professor in Connecticut. A conference for work forces him to return to New York City, where he finds something unexpected in his nearly forgotten Manhattan apartment: a pair of illegal immigrants is renting his place from a dishonest man, and they're just as shocked by his presence as he is by theirs. But Walter's kindness prevails, and he allows Syrian immigrant Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and his Senegalese love Zainab (Danai Gurira) to stay. Tarek and Walter form an unlikely bond over Tarek's talent for playing the djembe drum, and soon Walter is spending his spare time with the couple. When Tarek is unjustly arrested, deportation hangs over the young man's head and Walter is determined to help. The arrival of Tarek's mother (Hiam Abbass) adds another element to the trouble, but she provides unexpected companionship for Walter as he crusades for her son's freedom.
THE STATION AGENT was a pleasant surprise for everyone who saw it, and while THE VISITOR revisits some of the same themes (particularly loneliness), it doesn't feel like a retread. In his first two films as writer and director, McCarthy has displayed an impressive touch with both quietly funny dialogue and complex characters. All the actors deserve credit for their emotional performances, but Jenkins adeptly carries the film on his shoulders. Until THE VISITOR, he has been a prolific character actor, perhaps most recognizable as the dearly departed dad on SIX FEET UNDER. But as magnetic as he has been in small roles, the depth of his talent becomes even more obvious in this remarkable lead performance.