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'The Visit'

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 20, 2001


    'The Visit' Hill Harper and Rae Dawn Chong star in "The Visit." (Urbanworld)
If first-time writer-director Jordan Walker-Pearlman's "The Visit" feels claustrophobic, that's by design.

As he describes it in the movie's press kit, the filmmaker "forced the camera to express entrapment" as a visual metaphor for the story of a young man (Hill Harper) imprisoned for a rape he says he did not commit.

But this isn't just another tale of the vindication of an innocent man. Far from it. In fact, we never learn whether the prisoner Alex is guilty or not.

Working from a fact-based play by Kosmond Russell, Walker-Pearlman is primarily interested in the theme of spiritual, not legal, redemption.

His cast is fine, with Marla Gibbs and Billy Dee Williams playing Alex's parents, Obba Babatunde as his older brother and Rae Dawn Chong as a childhood friend and recovering crack addict whose prison visits prove figuratively liberating.

Unfortunately, the actors seem overqualified for their parts, delivering earnest monologues that come across as clumsy transplants from the proscenium stage.

And, while not exactly ineffective (in an artsy sort of way), the director's cubist style of filming – with short passages of dialogue broken up by blackouts, flashbacks and dream sequences – stops the narrative momentum and contributes to an overall sense of torpor.

Still, as talky and introspective as "The Visit" is, it's hard not to give it bonus points for avoiding prison movie clichés and for taking a long, unblinking look at the complex dynamics of one American family.

"The Visit" (R, 110 minutes) – Contains obscenity, sexual banter and vague discussion of incest and prison rape.


© Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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