DIRECTOR Thomas McCarthy's embracement of solitude is again on show for all to see with his latest offering, The Visitor. Having already delved into the pain of isolation in 2003's That Station Agent, McCarthy creates a sombre ambience with his recently widowed main character Walter (Richard Jenkins).
University lecturer Walter doesn't strike you as a man you would ever want to spend a considerable amount of time with but, beyond his gloomy demeanour, we gradually begin to see his character shine through as a truly caring, compassionate human being.
Walter's day to day existence is dull. There is a gaping hole in his life since his wife passed, which cannot be filled with anything, or so he thinks.
He travels to New York for a business conference for his university and arrives back at his apartment late in the evening.
He soon notices that something isn't quite right. After wondering around, he hears someone in the bathroom. As he opens the door he is greeted with a scream from a woman who is bathing.
This isn't the ideal end to a tedious day for Walter, and before he knows it, the woman's boyfriend pins him up against the wall.
After a few choice words and a session of twenty questions, the matter is soon resolved. The couple, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), a Syrian immigrant, and Zainab (Danai Jekesai Gurira) from Senegal, had been misinformed that the flat belonged to a friend of theirs, who they were renting it from. Tarek and Zainab apologise profusely for the misunderstanding.
Walter, being Walter calmly sits down with a glass of wine and waits for the couple to vacate.
Having had time to assess the situation, he catches up with the pair and says they can stay for a couple of days.
A grateful Tarek insists they will be gone as soon as possible. Days pass and the initial uncomfortable predicaments subside.
Tarek warms to Walter and even teaches him the djembe.
Walter had been attempting to play the piano like his late wife, with little success, but he is like a duck to water when he takes control of the drum. At first, he is almost embarrassed to attempt to play in front of Tarek, but Tarek's constant positive support helps Walter release his inhibitions and develop a strong connection with the instrument.
After an afternoon slapping the goatskin in Central Park, they head to the subway where the police stop Tarek. He's arrested with no reason given, leaving Walter to relay the news to Zainab.
When Walter tells her, she breaks down and informs Walter that Tarek is an illegal immigrant.
After the police discover Tarek does not have any legal documents, he is transferred to an immigrant detention centre in Queens.
Walter is devastated as his bond with Tarek was strong. He feels obliged to help him in his legal battle. Walter shuns his job and opts to stay in New York to support Tarek.
Tarek's concerned mother Mouna (Hiam Abbass) flies into town to see why her son hasn't been in touch. Walter makes a lasting impression on her, and continues to help Mouna after she decides to stick it out in New York to help free her son.
The subtlety in the approach to the comedic angle helps the film steer away from a potentially heavy narrative. Walter shows that you can't judge a book by a cover, as he's a kind-hearted soul whose generosity surpasses anything anyone could ever expect of a recent acquaintance.
The film is defined by the flawless cast who may be far from household names, but with performances like this, it will surely only be a matter of time.
This may only be McCarthy's second feature film as a director, but he has proven he is more than capable of producing well-written, touching journeys of discovery.