When widowed professor Walter Vale (Jenkins) makes a trip to Manhattan for a conference, he’s surprised to find an immigrant couple, Tarek (Sleiman) and Zainab (Gurira), squatting in his unused flat. Reluctantly, he allows them to stay, and Tarek repays the kindness by teaching Walter how to play the djembé, an African drum. Slowly, Walter is revitalized by their friendship and cottons on to the instrument, but Tarek, a Syrian national, has to face the music when he’s detained by INS agents.
Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent”), a fine actor himself, directs this subtle, compelling drama with assurance, imbuing the story of one man’s loneliness with larger social issues that clearly resonate in the post-9/11 era. The Oscar-nominated Jenkins is superb as the hollow mourner who finds renewal in rhythm, and Sleiman scores high marks, too, as the vivacious, good-natured Arab immigrant who elicits Walter’s help when he’s locked up in a detention center. Let “The Visitor” drop in sometime.