The initial setup reminds us of McCarthy’s earlier film: another lonely misanthrope – in this case Richard Jenkins’s disheartened economics professor Walter Vale – is forced into contact with other human beings, and finds himself opening up in the process. Here the intruders are immigrant couple Tarek and Zainab, who have been illegally squatting in Walter’s New York apartment, and with whom he begins a tentative, wary friendship. But when Tarek is arrested by Homeland Security officers and banged up in a grim, urban repatriation facility, Walter is forced to make a choice: abandon Tarek to his fate, or step up and get involved. The arrival on the scene of Tarek’s beautiful, widowed mother only adds another layer of emotional complexity to Walter’s already tangled situation.
The character work in ‘The Visitor’ is admittedly lovely: there are moments of conflict, tenderness and intimate self-discovery that hint at real depths in the figures on screen. But McCarthy’s political story is far less convincing. Implausibly warm and logically fuzzy, his treatment of his immigrant protagonists smacks of crude political correctness. These figures are essentially perfect: polite, fun-loving and affectionate, model citizens pitted against a faceless, repressive state. While elements of this may ring true, it feels distinctly underwhelming as drama, drowning McCarthy’s subtle, searching dialogue and incisive, humanist character development in a morass of right thinking, left-leaning platitudes.