You may not know you know Richard Jenkins, but you know him. And most likely, you're a fan.
Jenkins, the 60-year-old star of the winsome serio-comedy "The Visitor," has for years served as one of Hollywood's go-to supporting actors, his Everyman looks and deadpan demeanor the perfect fit for playing dads ("Rumor Has It," "North Country"), CEOs ("Fun With Dick and Jane") and sundry Feds ("The Kingdom," "Flirting With Disaster"). Here, Jenkins gets a much-deserved shot at leading man, and he delivers a tender, funny, heartbreaking and thoroughly winning performance.
Jenkins plays widowed economics professor Walter Vale, who reluctantly agrees to give a paper at NYU and, upon arriving at his Manhattan pied-a-terre, discovers that it has been illegally sublet to Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and Zainab (Danai Gurira), both of whom are undocumented.
After first throwing the couple out, Vale impulsively takes pity on them. What ensues is a remarkable friendship and, when Tarek's mother arrives, a budding romance. Written and directed with observant humor and unerring sensitivity by Tom McCarthy ("The Station Agent"), "The Visitor" gives viewers a perceptive, deeply personal take on the timeless immigrant narrative, in which the most epic journey is finally one of self-discovery. For his overdue breakout role, Jenkins is ably supported by the expansive Sleiman and newcomer Gurira, who possesses a watchful, solemn sense of self-possession. The great Hiam Abbass ("Palestine Now") plays Tarek's beautiful, wary mother.
-- Ann Hornaday (April 18, 2008)
Contains strong language.