The Visitor



Insightful drama shatters post-9/11 stereotypes.
  • Review Date: April 11, 2008
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2008
  • Running Time: 108 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Characters generally behave morally and ethically throughout. They exhibit sensitivity and appreciation for racial and cultural diversity. Two leading characters have expired visas and are in the U.S. illegally -- the consequences for that are severe. But despite unyielding, dispassionate government agencies, the individuals in authority are usually shown to be reasonable.


Police are harsh when they arrest a man in a subway station.

Not applicable

Brief cursing in just one early sequence, used to indicate fear and surprise: "what the f--k?," "motherf---er," and "s--t."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Red wine is consumed on several occasions, but never to excess.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this thoughtful drama -- which celebrates the diversity of other cultures -- explores the hot-button issue of immigration. There's a little bit of swearing and some drinking, but overall the content is age-appropriate for teens, though very sensitive kids may be upset by the fact that the story doesn't spare the heartbreak that comes when families are separated abruptly. Characters pay dearly for their mistakes, even accidental ones. It's clear that the filmmaker has a strong point of view about U.S. policy since 9/11, but he attempts to be fair and even-handed.

What's the story?

Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) is alone. A middle-aged professor at Connecticut College, he's not depressed, but his life is soulless and boring; he's lost his wife, his passion for teaching, and whatever vitality he may once have had. When he's sent to New York City to deliver an academic paper, he finds an immigrant couple living in the apartment he keeps but rarely visits. It turns out that both parties have been victimized in a fraudulent rental scam -- still, a warm but tentative friendship begins between Walter and Syrian musician Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), despite the wariness of Tarek's Sengalese girlfriend. When Tarek is arrested (basically without cause), the authorities discover that he's living in the United States illegally. Walter becomes his new friend's advocate and is drawn into the bureaucratic fog of the immigration system, with heart-rending results.

Is it any good?


Writer-director Tom McCarthy accomplishes a near miracle with THE VISITOR. He delivers a powerful, satisfying movie about racial politics and government missteps without any accusations, one-sided arguments, or rage. By telling the tender story of Walter's life-affirming reawakening through his relationship with Tarek and his family, McCarthy humanizes people who have made this country their home without the benefit of legal documentation.

Longtime character actor Jenkins' performance in his first "starring" role is perfection. Walter is nuanced, intelligent, and completely honest. And each of the other actors brings his or her own special artistry to difficult but sympathetic roles. As he did in his first directorial effort, The Station Agent, McCarthy tells a wonderful story about decent, hardworking, sincere people. This time around, it just happens that some of them weren't born here.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the wide range of attitudes toward people who are in the U.S. illegally. How do you think the filmmaker feels about the immigrant characters he has created? What contributions do they make to their adopted country? Does this movie change any of your ideas about people and families from the Middle East and Africa? What about immigration in general? What do you think the movie's final message is?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:April 16, 2008
DVD release date:October 7, 2008
Cast:Haaz Sleiman, Hiam Abbass, Richard Jenkins
Director:Tom McCarthy
Studio:Groundswell Productions
Run time:108 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:brief strong language.

This review of The Visitor was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Parent of a 14 year old Written byTsion July 2, 2009

A Well-Acted Drama

THE VISITOR is a good movie. It isn't my favorite, because I'm a devout Republican and completely disagree with its stance on illegal immigration. However, it is a very well-made movie, with a great script and acting. It's okay for teens and adults. There are two "f" words and two "s**t"s for language. Though some authority figures are nasty and three main characters break the law, the role models are positive: all main characters are kind and supportive.
What other families should know
Too much swearing
Great role models
Kid, 12 years old February 26, 2010

Pretty good, some swearing, some kids might not understand it...

Parents need to know that this is a movie which is very hardhitting at times. There is some racist characters, and some stuff about imnmigration and deportion and detention centres and other heavy stuff like that. Although there is no actual violence, it is implied that one character is treated badly in a detention centre, and we see a character getting arrested for no reason at a subway because the police suspect him of being terrorist (the film deals with lots of issues about post-9/11 paranoia.) There is some f words and the film is very bleak, but I suppose that in the end the main character finds another happier and livelyer side to himself which is good. All the characters are pretty much good rolemodels, they all get along and show good manners and behaviour, but its just that some kids might not understand all the 9/11, immigration and terrorism stuff and may find it a bit disturbing, so I think its ok for mature 13 year olds. This film is similar to the Soloist.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Great role models
Teen, 15 years old Written byHappilyEverAfter December 7, 2009

Great premise!

The premise of this film is very interesting... A deadbeat professor travels for a conference to New York and finds that a foreign couple is living in his apartment. At first, he throws them out, but then he goes to find them and tells them that they are welcome to stay until they can find another place. An unexpected friendship arises and he finds himself deeply entangled in their lives and the possibility that the man is an illegal immigrant. Great film, very intriguing... makes you question our country's method of dealing with illegal aliens.
What other families should know
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Great messages


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