Richard Jenkins is one of those dependable character actors you see several times a year, and when you do, you know his face, but never remember just what other movies you’ve seen him in.
In “The Visitor,” Jenkins has the lead. He plays Walter, a university professor in Connecticut. He’s teaching just one class so he can pay more attention to the writing of his fourth book. He’s boring and he’s bored, a widower forced to read a paper at a conference in New York. Upon arrival, he discovers an immigrant couple has been living for a few months at the apartment he’s owned there for 25 years.
He’s a Syrian; she’s from Senegal. Walter feels sorry for them and allows them to stay the night. The night turns into several days. When they police learn of the aliens, the mills of deportation begin to grind.
The fineness of Jenkins’ characterization is that he conveys so much of Walter to us with so little exposition. It’s all in facial expression “ or lack thereof “ and body language. Even Walter’s moments of joyful abandon as he pounds away on his drum are qualified by the man’s inner nothingness. We wonder if it’s possible for this leopard to change his spots, or if he’ll keep the same pattern until death.
“The Visitor” is a very good film that explores the question of what we do when our future is all used up, but it’s still too soon to die.