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The Visitor (2007 feature film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Visitor
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTom McCarthy
Written byTom McCarthy
Produced byMary Jane Skalski
Michael London
StarringRichard Jenkins
Hiam Abbass
Haaz Sleiman
Danai Gurira
CinematographyOliver Bokelberg
Edited byTom McArdle
Music byJan A. P. Kaczmarek
Distributed byOverture Films
Release dates
  • September 7, 2007 (2007-09-07) (TIFF)
  • April 18, 2008 (2008-04-18) (United States)
Running time
103 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$4 million[2]
Box office$18.1 million[1]

The Visitor is a 2007 American drama film written and directed by Tom McCarthy and produced by Michael London and Mary Jane Skalski. Executive producers were Jeff Skoll and Omar Amanat. The screenplay focuses on a lonely man in late middle age whose life changes when a chance encounter with an immigrant couple forces him to face issues relating to identity, immigration, and cross-cultural communication in post-9/11 New York City.

For The Visitor, McCarthy won the 2008 Independent Spirit Award for Best Director,[3] while Richard Jenkins[4] was nominated for Best Actor at the 81st Academy Awards.


Walter Vale is a widowed Connecticut College economics professor who lives a fairly solitary existence. He fills his days by sometimes taking piano lessons in an effort to emulate his late wife, a classical concert pianist, and infrequently works on a new book. When he is asked to present a paper at an academic conference at New York University, he is not enthusiastic to make the trip, given he is only the nominal co-author and has never even read the complete work. Charles, his department head, insists and Walter is forced to attend.

When he arrives in his old apartment in Manhattan, Walter is startled to find a young unmarried couple living there, having rented it from a swindler who claimed it was his. Tarek is an immigrant from Syria, a Palestinian-Syrian[5] djembe player, and Zainab is a Senegalese designer of ethnic jewelry. He later discovers both are illegal immigrants. Although they have no place to go, they hastily pack and leave, but Walter decides to let them stay. Over the next few days, a friendship slowly develops. Tarek teaches Walter to play the drum, and the two men join a group of others at a regular drum circle in Central Park.

On the way home, Tarek is mistakenly charged with subway turnstile jumping, arrested for "failing" to pay his fare (although he actually had), and taken to a detention center for illegal immigrants in Queens. In order to prevent Tarek's deportation from the United States, Walter hires an immigration lawyer. Feeling uncomfortable about remaining in the apartment with Walter, Zainab moves out to live with relatives in the Bronx.

Tarek's mother, Mouna, unexpectedly arrives from her home in Michigan when she is unable to contact her son. Because she is also illegally in the States, she is also unable to visit him at the detention center. Hesitating, she accepts Walter's offer to stay in the apartment, and the two develop a friendship. Walter confesses his life is unfulfilling; he dislikes the single course he has taught for twenty years, and the book he is allegedly writing is nowhere near completion. It is revealed that Mouna's journalist husband died following a lengthy politically motivated imprisonment in Syria, and she is concerned about her son's future prospects if he is deported. The two begin to share a simple domestic existence, with Mouna preparing meals and Walter treating her to The Phantom of the Opera when she mentions her love for the original cast recording Tarek sent her as a gift.

Without warning, Tarek is summarily deported back to Syria. Mouna, left with no one in the States, decides to follow him and to return to live there. On their final night, Mouna joins Walter for a comforting embrace in bed, blaming herself for all that has gone wrong. Walter sees her off at the airport the next day. Alone once again, Walter plays his drum on a subway platform, as Tarek once told him he himself would like to do some time.


  • Richard Jenkins as Walter Vale: McCarthy had Jenkins in mind from the beginning because he has an "amazing and wonderful everyman quality" which helped create the character. After two and a half years of writing he worked with Jenkins to finalize it.[2]
  • Haaz Sleiman as Tarek: Before this role Sleiman had never played the drums and had to practice three hours a day for a month and a half. After watching a documentary on Fela Kuti, Sleiman came up with the idea for Tarek to rehearse in his underwear.[6]
  • Danai Gurira as Zainab
  • Hiam Abbass as Mouna
  • Richard Kind as Jacob
  • Michael Cumpsty as Charles
  • Marian Seldes as Barbara


The story for the film started with the characters of Tarek and Walter. McCarthy wanted to have those characters interact and creating the story was like "putting pieces of a puzzle together."[7] He first started writing the film during a state-sponsored visit to the Middle East. He says he had "an especially great connection with the people I met in Beirut" and didn't consider the immigration angle until he returned to New York City.[8]

The film was shot on location in New York City. Some scenes were filmed on campus at Wagner College in Staten Island, New York. The soundtrack includes "Open and Close" and "Je'nwi Teni (Don't Gag Me)," written and performed by Nigerian musician/composer Fela Kuti.


The film premiered at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival and was shown at numerous 2008 festivals, including the Sundance Film Festival, the European Film Market, the Portland International Film Festival, the Miami International Film Festival, South by Southwest, the Dallas International Film Festival, the Phoenix Film Festival, and the Philadelphia International Film Festival. The Visitor was given a limited release in the US on April 11 in 4 theaters and earned $86,488 with an average of $21,622 per theater ranking 45th at the box office. The film's widest release was 270 theaters and it ended up earning $9,427,089 domestically and $8,651,086 internationally for a total of $18,078,175, above its $4 million production budget.[9]

Critical reception

The Visitor received mostly positive reviews from critics and has a rating of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 120 reviews with an average rating of 7.62 out of 10. The consensus states "The Visitor is a heartfelt, humanistic drama that deftly explores identity, immigration, and other major post-9/11 issues."[10] The film also has a score of 79 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 29 reviews.[11]

A.O. Scott of the New York Times observed, "The curious thing about The Visitor is that even as it goes more or less where you think it will, it still manages to surprise you along the way ... It is possible to imagine a version of this story ... that would be obvious and sentimental, an exercise in cultural condescension and liberal masochism. Indeed, it’s nearly impossible to imagine it any other way. And yet, astonishingly enough, Mr. McCarthy has. Much as The Station Agent nimbly evaded the obstacles of cuteness and willful eccentricity it had strewn in its own path, so does The Visitor, with impressive grace and understatement, resist potential triteness and phony uplift."[12]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times rated the film 3½ out of four stars and called it "a wonderful film, sad, angry, and without a comforting little happy ending". He added, "All four actors are charismatic, in quite different ways ... Jenkins creates a surprisingly touching, very quiet, character study. Not all actors have to call out to us. The better ones make us call out to them."[13]

Ruthe Stein of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "Devotees of The Station Agent will be relieved to know that writer-director Tom McCarthy gives no indication of a sophomore slump. His second film ... is, if anything, more imaginative and touching than his first. McCarthy puts a mark on each film, identifying it as distinctly his own. A couple more like them, and he'll be knighted an auteur ... Jenkins' multilevel performance is continually surprising ... The part of Walter was written for [him], and he inhabits it like a second skin."[14]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone rated the film 3½ out of four stars, calling it "a heartfelt human drama that sneaks up and floors you." He described screenwriter/director McCarthy as "that rare talent who can work in miniature to reveal major truths [and] ... is attuned to the nuances of behavior" and wrote "Jenkins delivers a master class in acting. Oscar, take note."[15]

John Anderson of Variety wrote, "Some films click from the moment they're cast, and that is certainly the case with The Visitor ... a perfect vehicle for Richard Jenkins [who] ... plays McCarthy's transfigured hero to a tee ... Visitor tilts toward the soulful rather than the political, and could be this year's humanistic indie hit."[16]

Peter Rainer of the Christian Science Monitor graded the film C+, criticizing Richard Jenkins' "underpowered" performance and the film's "squishy humanism."[17]

The film was named best of the year by the Washington Post, the Charlotte Observer, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.[18] It also was cited as one of the year's ten best by numerous publications, including the Chicago Reader,[18] the Philadelphia Inquirer,[18] the Seattle Post-Intelligencer,[18] The Hollywood Reporter,[18] The Wall Street Journal,[18] and the New York Post.[18]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
AARP Movies for Grownups Awards Best Intergenerational Film Won [19]
Best Actor Richard Jenkins Nominated
Academy Awards Best Actor Nominated [20]
Alliance of Women Film Journalists Awards Best Actor Nominated [21]
Best Screenplay, Original Tom McCarthy Nominated
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards Best Actor Richard Jenkins Runner-up [22]
Best Ensemble Cast Nominated
Brisbane International Film Festival Interfaith Award Tom McCarthy Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Best Actor Richard Jenkins Nominated [23]
Chlotrudis Awards Best Actor Won [24]
Best Supporting Actress Hiam Abbass Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Tom McCarthy Nominated
Critics' Choice Movie Awards Best Actor Richard Jenkins Nominated [25]
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Film 6th Place [26]
Best Actor Richard Jenkins 5th Place
David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Film Tom McCarthy Nominated
Deauville American Film Festival Grand Prix Won
FICE - Federazione Italiana Cinema d'Essai Best Actress Hiam Abbass (also for Lemon Tree) Won
Gold Derby Film Awards Best Lead Actor Richard Jenkins Nominated [27]
Gotham Independent Film Awards Best Feature Nominated [28]
Best Ensemble Performance Hiam Abbass, Danai Gurira, Richard Jenkins,
and Haaz Sleiman
Houston Film Critics Society Awards Best Actor Richard Jenkins Nominated [29]
Humanitas Prize Sundance Feature Film Tom McCarthy Nominated [30]
Independent Spirit Awards Best Director Won [31]
Best Male Lead Richard Jenkins Nominated
Best Supporting Male Haaz Sleiman Nominated
International Cinephile Society Awards Best Actor Richard Jenkins Nominated [32]
Best Supporting Actress Hiam Abbass Nominated
International Online Cinema Awards Best Actor Richard Jenkins Nominated
Method Fest Independent Film Festival Best Director Tom McCarthy Won
Best Actor Richard Jenkins Won
Best Supporting Actress Danai Gurira Won
Moscow International Film Festival Golden St. George Tom McCarthy Nominated [33]
Best Actor Richard Jenkins Won
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Independent Motion Picture Nominated [34]
National Board of Review Awards Top 10 Independent Films Won [35]
Spotlight Award Richard Jenkins Won
Online Film & Television Association Awards Best Breakthrough Performance: Male Haaz Sleiman Nominated [36]
Online Film Critics Society Awards Best Actor Richard Jenkins Nominated [37]
San Diego Film Critics Society Awards Best Screenplay – Original Tom McCarthy Won
Special Award Richard Jenkins (For his body of work in 2008) Won
Santa Barbara International Film Festival Virtuoso Award Richard Jenkins Won [38]
Satellite Awards Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Won [39]
Best Director Tom McCarthy Nominated
Best Screenplay – Original Won
Best Overall DVD Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role Richard Jenkins Nominated [40]
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards Best Picture 8th Place [41]
St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association Awards Best Actor Richard Jenkins Nominated [42]
Best Music (Soundtrack or Score, Original or Adapted) Jan A. P. Kaczmarek Won
St. Louis International Film Festival Best Music Won
Utah Film Critics Association Awards Best Actor Richard Jenkins Runner-up [43]
Warsaw Film Festival Grand Prix Tom McCarthy Nominated [44]
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Original Screenplay Nominated [45]

Home media

The DVD was released on October 7, 2008. Viewers have the option of either widescreen anamorphic or fullscreen formats. Bonus features include commentary by writer/director Tom McCarthy and star Richard Jenkins, deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, a history of the djembe and instructions on how to play it, and the original trailer.

Musical adaptation

A musical adaptation of The Visitor premiered at The Public Theatre in previews on October 16, 2021 and officially opened on November 4.


  1. ^ a b "The Visitor (2008)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 5, 2010.
  2. ^ a b Douglas, Edward (April 8, 2008). "Exclusive: Thomas McCarthy's The Visitor". Retrieved January 7, 2010.
  3. ^ Siegel, Tatiana (February 23, 2009). "'The Wrestler' tops Spirit Awards". Variety. Retrieved April 2, 2009.
  4. ^ Napoleon, Davi (July 17, 2009). "Five Questions for Richard Jenkins". The Faster Archived from the original on February 25, 2012. Retrieved March 8, 2012.
  5. ^ Asi, Husam Sam (July 4, 2008). "The Visitor – Review". UKScreen. Retrieved February 2, 2015.
  6. ^ Kramer, Gary (April 24, 2008). " Interview: Haaz Sleiman". Archived from the original on July 22, 2012. Retrieved January 8, 2010.
  7. ^ Orndorf, Brian (April 9, 2008). "Writer/Director Thomas McCarthy and Actor Haaz Sleiman Interview – The Visitor". Archived from the original on June 5, 2010. Retrieved January 8, 2010.
  8. ^ Bell, James (July 2008). "Rushes: Interview: Strangers in a Strange Land". Sight and Sound. 18 (7): 10. ISSN 0037-4806.
  9. ^ "The Visitor (2008)". Box Office Mojo. October 9, 2008. Retrieved February 2, 2015.
  10. ^ "The Visitor". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 2, 2015.
  11. ^ "The Visitor Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved February 2, 2015.
  12. ^ Scott, A. O. (April 11, 2008). "Professor as Student of His Life and Others'". The New York Times. Retrieved March 8, 2012.
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (July 17, 2008). "The Visitor Movie Review & Film Summary (2008)". Retrieved February 2, 2015.
  14. ^ Stein, Ruthe (April 18, 2008). "Movie review: Professor finds heart in drums". San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco: Hearst. ISSN 1932-8672. Retrieved February 2, 2015.
  15. ^ Travers, Peter (April 25, 2008). "The Visitor". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 2, 2015.
  16. ^ Anderson, John (September 9, 2007). "The Visitor". Variety. Retrieved February 2, 2015.
  17. ^ Rainer, Peter (April 11, 2008). "'The Visitor' outstays its welcome". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved February 2, 2015.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g Metacritic 2008 Film Critic Top Ten Lists Archived February 24, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ "Movies for Grownups Awards 2009 from Bill Newcott of AARP".
  20. ^ "The 81st Academy Awards (2009) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. AMPAS. Archived from the original on November 10, 2014. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
  21. ^ "2008 EDA Awards Nominees". Retrieved 25 July 2017.
  22. ^ "BSFC Winners: 2000s". Boston Society of Film Critics. July 27, 2018. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  23. ^ "1988-2013 Award Winner Archives". Chicago Film Critics Association. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  24. ^ "15th Annual Chlotrudis Awards". Chlotrudis Society for Independent Films. Retrieved December 23, 2021.
  25. ^ "The BFCA Critics' Choice Awards :: 2008". Archived from the original on February 25, 2011. Retrieved August 10, 2009.
  26. ^ Wilonsky, Robert (December 17, 2008). "A Year-End Movie List". Dallas Observer. Dallas, TX. Retrieved December 23, 2012.
  27. ^ "2008 Gold Derby Film Awards". Gold Derby. March 7, 2016. Retrieved April 20, 2021.
  28. ^ "Past Recipients". Gotham Awards. Retrieved July 9, 2022.
  29. ^ "The Houston Film Critics Society Award Winners for 2008". Houston Film Critics Society. Retrieved December 17, 2008.
  30. ^ "Past Winners & Nominees". Humanitas Prize. Retrieved June 11, 2022.
  31. ^ "36 Years of Nominees and Winners" (PDF). Independent Spirit Awards. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  32. ^ "2009 ICS Award Winners". International Cinephile Society. 14 June 2010. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  33. ^ "30th Moscow International Film Festival (2008)". MIFF. Archived from the original on April 21, 2013. Retrieved June 2, 2013.
  34. ^ "The 40th NAACP Image Awards". Archived from the original on 2009-02-11. Retrieved February 12, 2009.
  35. ^ "2008 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  36. ^ "13th Annual Film Awards (2008)". Online Film & Television Association. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  37. ^ "2008 Awards (12th Annual)". Online Film Critics Society. January 3, 2012. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  38. ^ "Celebrity Tributes". Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Archived from the original on 2022-11-29. Retrieved 22 January 2015.
  39. ^ "2008 Satellite Awards". Satellite Awards. International Press Academy. Retrieved July 10, 2021.
  40. ^ "The 15th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards". Screen Actors Guild Awards. Retrieved May 21, 2016.
  41. ^ "2008 SEFA Awards". Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  42. ^ "St. Louis Film Critics". St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association. Archived from the original on June 17, 2010. Retrieved August 1, 2010.
  43. ^ "2008 Utah Film Critics Association Awards". Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  44. ^ "24th Warsaw Film Festival - 2008". Warsaw Film Festival. Retrieved October 19, 2008.
  45. ^ "Wga awards". Archived from the original on 2013-01-28. Retrieved 2008-10-08.

External links

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