The Visitor (2007)

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Released 5-Aug-2009

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-Director Tom McCarthy and Richard Jenkins
Deleted Scenes-With Optional Commentary McCarthy and Jenkins
Interviews-Cast-McCarthy, Jenkins, Sleiman, Gurira
Featurette-Djembe - The Heartbeat of Africa
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Wendy & Lucy, Man on Wire, Three Burials, Suddenly
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2007
Running Time 99:29 (Case: 104)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Thomas McCarthy

Madman Entertainment
Starring Richard Jenkins
Haaz Sleiman
Danai Jekesai Gurira
Hiam Abbass
Marian Seldes
Maggie Moore
Michael Cumpsty
Bill McHenry
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $29.95 Music Jan A.P. Kaczmarek

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

   In the interview featurette which accompanies this DVD release actor Richard Jenkins frankly states: "I have waited my entire professional career to be part of something like this."

It is said with some justification. Jenkins, now in his 60's, is a perennial bit part player who has been appearing regularly in films and on TV since the 80's. Until recently most would have known him for his role as Nathaniel Fisher from Six Feet Under. In that series he was the father and husband who influenced the shape of the seasons despite dying in the pilot episode. Over the life of the show he appeared not infrequently dispensing the hard truths to his children.

In The Visitor Jenkins has found his seminal role, which earned him his first Oscar nomination as Best Actor.

In The Visitor Jenkins plays Walter Vale a widowed college professor. His wife was a concert pianist and Walter takes lessons on the piano, despite middling talent, as a way of connecting to this past life with his wife.

In a key early moment we seek Walter whiting out the previous year on his syllabus and inserting the current year. He is simply going through the motions with his classes with no sense of direction. Walter experiences a minor crisis when he is required to travel to New York to deliver a paper based on an article he co-authored. The trouble is Walter was asked to place his name on the paper to give it some credence and has no particular detailed knowledge nor interest in the subject matter.

Walter maintains an apartment in New York, seemingly untouched or unvisited since his wife's passing. Arriving at night he notices a few changes - there is some personal property near the door and flowers in a vase on a table. Walking into the bathroom he surprises Zainab (Danai Gurira) a young African woman and is almost assaulted by her partner, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) who thinks him an intruder. In fact an opportunistic third party has given them the keys and is charging rent.

The couple leave with nowhere to go but Walter relents and agrees to let them stay until they find new accommodation. Both are immigrants. Tarek plays an African drum, the Djemba, in a local bar and Zainab sells homemade trinkets in a flea market. Walter and Tarek become friends and gradually the older man softens. He begins to take an interest in the Djemba and joins Tarek in a street drumming group.

After a terrible misunderstanding Tarek is arrested and sent to a detention centre. He is an illegal immigrant and is scheduled for deportation. New found friend Walter tries to find a way for Tarek to remain. Onto the scene comes Tarek's mother (Haim Abbass) and Walter and she form, if not a relationship, then some specific bond in their pursuit of freedom for Tarek.

The Visitor is director Tom McCarthy's second feature after The Station Agent. That film was a sublime study of friendship which introduced diminutive actor Peter Dinklage to the world cinema audience. Fans of this subtle and talented director are looking forward to his pilot for the television version of George R.R. Martin's - A Game of Thrones, part of the A Song of Ice and Fire series. It will be interesting to see how the director turns from quirky personal dramas to blood and thunder fantasy.

The Visitor is a special film for many reasons. Those who have admired Richard Jenkins' performances in the past will find that he has finally reached a measure of perfection with his turn as Walter. Jenkins perfectly plays the buttoned down Walter such that his gradual softening through the power of music is both moving and joyous. His most dramatic scene is so entirely believable and consistent with his character that it speaks of an amazing synthesis between director and lead actor. One can only hope that this is, in fact, a lead into further great roles.

The support cast is excellent too. Sleiman makes an eager and enthusiastic Tarek and Gurira plays the wary and somewhat lost Zainab with considerable skill. Special mention must go to the powerful actress Haim Abbass who is able to convey both the strength and determination of her character and yet the inner weakness that comes from the seemingly hopeless situation facing her son. In many ways each of the characters is a visitor.

The Visitor is as subtle and gentle in its drama as The Station Agent. McCarthy is a director of rare skill and it is to be hoped that he continues to make films as competent as The Visitor . Though it deals with immigration and the deep sadness that comes with the plight of illegal immigrants, it is not a political film but rather a personal one.

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Transfer Quality


    The Visitor was shot on 35mm film and presented theatrically at 1.85:1 aspect ratio. That ratio has been maintained for the DVD release. It is 16x9 enhanced.

Although essentially an Indie chamber drama The Visitor presents well on DVD. The image quality is quite crisp and clear and the colours are bright and well defined. The flesh tones are accurate and there is no hint of compression on this dual layered DVD release.

There are subtitles in English for the foreign language segments in the film. These are burnt into the print. Otherwise there are no subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The sound for The Visitor features two tracks - a DTS surround track running at 768Kb/s and a Dolby digital 5.1 track running at 448Kb/s.

The film is dialogue heavy and would not be anyone's first choice for a DTS audio track. The Dolby Digital track and the DTS track both convey the dialogue in the film accurately and clearly. Where the DTS track excels is in the accuracy and punchiness of the drumming. Either track is, however, acceptable. There is not a great deal of surround sound on offer in this dialogue heavy track.

The dialogue is in audio sync. The music is by composer, Jan Kaczmarek. It is delicate and lends a quiet drama to the proceedings.

There are no technical problems with the soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


The Visitor comes with a surprising selection of extras.

Audio commentary - Tom McCarthy and Richard Jenkins

This is not a track for those seeking the deepest insights into the meaning of the film and the motivations of the characters. McCarthy and Jenkins have bonded well and provide a breezy and informative guide to the making of the film. This is a commentary more about filming locations and difficulties and the background to the various performers. Jenkins points out that this is his first DVD commentary and that it may well be his last. Given the number of film roles he has coming up in the next two years that doesn't seem likely.

Deleted scenes (with optional commentary by McCarthy and Jenkins) 

There are four deleted scenes on offer. They are:

  1. American Grill with Karen;
  2. Cocktails at the Conference;
  3. Omar Says Hello; and
  4. Jacob Meets Mouna.

According to the director all of the scenes were dropped for pacing reasons. He is a bold man as he points out that in the Cocktails extra he decided to delete a scene featuring two of his family members!

Interview with director Tom McCarthy and Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman and Danai Gurira (4.50)

This short interview is really not much more than a studio promotional piece. McCarthy and the actors briefly comment on their roles in between selected snippets from the film.

Djembe - The Heartbeat of Africa (7.50)

This longer feature looks at the Djembe, described as the main instrument of drumming and dancing in West Africa. The drum coach is interviewed in some detail about his efforts on the film - he trained McCarthy, Jenkins and Sleiman. In a wonderful irony he points out that Sleiman had to be trained extensively to learn to drum whereas Jenkins, who was playing a man struggling to work out whether he even had any rhythm, was a former drummer and needed very little training.

Theatrical trailer (2.27)

This trailer is a perfect guide to the film encapsulating the joy and sadness in the film.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

   The Visitor has been released in Region 1 and 2 in an identical format. It has also been released on Blu-ray in Region A.


   The Visitor is a fine drama which deals with weighty issues in a deep and meaningful fashion.

The DVD is quite good both visually and sonically despite it being anything but a showcase disk.

The extras are informative and meaningful.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayPioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR605
SpeakersJBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer

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