Picks and Pans Review: The Visitor

updated 04/21/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/21/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Richard Jenkins, Hiam Abbass, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira PG-13 | [

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CRITIC'S CHOICE

DRAMA

As in Smart People (see previous page), The Visitor's hero is an academic who has been sleepwalking through life since his wife died. But this poignant drama by writer-director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent) is far more tender, and realistic, than its slicker counterpart. Economics professor Walter Vale (Jenkins), 62, is revivified upon befriending a young illegal-immigrant couple, Tarek (Sleiman) and Zainab (Gurira). In a plot that includes comedy (Vale takes up drumming alongside Tarek in New York City parks), tragedy (Tarek, who's Syrian, faces deportation) and romance (Vale grows close to Tarek's mom, movingly played by Abbass), Visitor takes Vale, and viewers, on a bittersweet journey. Jenkins, a veteran character actor, is gently perfect as a man who comes to understand that life, in happy and sad times, is meant to be lived.

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