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The Vistor on DVDThe Visitor

An overhyped drama that fails to use the assets it was given.

In this 2007 drama, Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under) plays the role of Professor Walter Vale. Walter is a middle aged man who has lost his passion for his life and career, going through his daily routine in a daze while attempting to find it again through music. Forced into traveling to New York to make a presentation at a conference, he finds a young foreign couple living in his apartment. Seeing the young couple has nowhere to go, he invites them to stay and slowly begins to expand his world with them learning to play the African drums from the young Syrian man, Tarak (Haaz Sleiman), while attempting to be friendly with his girlfriend, Zainab (Danai Gurira), from Senegal.

The reality shifts though when Tarak is arrested and held in a detention center and Walter learns that the young couple are both illegal immigrants. Stepping forward with his newfound belief in something, Walter will take a stand for something. Making friends along the way with Zainab and his mother Mouna (Hiam Abbass).

Good and the Bad
On a technical level, this DVD is well presented. Upon entering the DVD, audiences are able to choose their preference between full aspect and widescreen format according to preference. This is a nice feature to include on the disc since there always seems to be a debate ready to explode on preferences.

Getting into the film itself, this is a film of great ambition but little in the way of execution. The premise of the film is strong and the story is well presented to start. The main character portrayed by Jenkins is a believable character that has potential to hook the audience right away. From here, the story begins to move towards its primary purposes and loses the way quickly.

The first place where this film loses its direction is with Jenkins in the lead role. Walter Vale is a character who has lost his passion for life and so Jenkins plays the role very flat. With very few changes to his vocal tones and seemingly fewer facial expressions. As Walter continues to grow throughout the film, audiences will keep waiting for him to show the changes. Some will be subtle and some will, such as the drum circle, will be obvious.

Throughout the film though, Jenkins will continue to show next to nothing. New events will present themselves to Walter and he will experience things for the first time, coming out of his shell. In between these moments though, he remains the same stoic individual. Rarely showing any real expressions. Some of the actions change but the audience will continue to wait until the conclusion of the film for his big catharsis. By the time it arrives though, audiences will have the new questions of what took him so long to become angry and why should they even care anymore.

The second place where this film stumbles is in the film’s relationships, or lack thereof. There are so many relationships that could have been developed into something much stronger. In the entire film, it is rare that the audience will see Tarik and Zainab being affectionate or intimate with each other. This creates a very real gap that makes it hard to emphasize with either when Tarik is put into detention.

The closest the film comes to establishing a relationship is between Walter and Tarik’s mother. The film takes its time striking a very slow bond between the two characters. The relationship is growing out of a real concern for Tarik that they share. Even with the evenings they spend together though, the relationship was always kept in a very neutral state. The two characters will share some special moments but ultimately the film misses another opportunity to really pull the audience in.

The pacing of the film remained consistent throughout moving from plot point to plot point at a very reasonable pace through the first half. Around the time that Tarik gets put into the detention center, the film started to slow considerably. With the film now centering on Walter as the audience awaited his big catharsis, there was little to keep the film afloat without considerable influence from a supporting cast that is kept quiet.

The film casts some wonderful actors to fill the supporting roles. Tarik is played admirably by Haaz Sleimann. Charming from the start, Tarik is one character in the film that will grab audiences. Also handling her own amongst the cast is the young actress making her film debut, Danai Gurira. Zainab is a strong character though her presence in the film isn’t felt nearly enough.

For a film that uses music as a central theme for the characters to bond over, the soundtrack is surprisingly low key. Most of the instrumental themes that play during Walter’s scenes are soft piano scores that underscore his quiet nature.

The film does manage to include some very nice soft salsa songs which are performed very well throughout the film by Sleimann. The drum circle scenes were also very well choreographed and performed. The energy and enthusiasm that these drummers had for their rhythms were very evident and matched with fun cinematography; these scenes became the highlight of the film.

The first extra to be offered on this disc is a commentary track featuring writer/director Tom McCarthy and Richard Jenkins. Following this is an insider look at the film. The feature comes in at just under five minutes and gets comments from several cast members as well as Tom McCarthy getting their thoughts on the film and their roles.
In a fun twist, the third extra on the disc is a feature about playing the drum that Tarik teaches Walter to play, the Djembe. In the almost eight minute feature, cast and crew will talk about learning how to play the drum and challenges they faced along the way. Sleimann has the most interesting story to tell as he had to learn how to play well enough to jam with top musicians while filming.

In the deleted scenes, audiences will see (with or without audio commentary) about three and a half minutes worth of deleted scenes. The scenes are interesting to see again but it’s easy to see why all of them were cut. Finally the disc wraps up with a trailer.

The film tries very hard to tell a powerful story filled with moving personal relationships but none of the relationships are ever given a real chance. The film moves at a brisk pace and before long you’ll be at the ending credits before you even realized it. It might be worth it to you to rent this one if there’s nothing else around but I wouldn’t go out of your way to do it.

Final Grade: C, Inc.

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Review by L. B. Bryant
Webmaster Of Otaku Review:

Actors: Richard Jenkins, Hazz Sleiman, Hiam Abbas
Directors: Tom McCarthy
Format: Anamorphic, Color, Dolby, DVD-Video, HiFi Sound, Surround Sound, THX, Widescreen, NTSC
Language: Arabic, English
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Number of discs: 1
DVD Release Date: October 7, 2008
Run Time: 104 minutes

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