McCarthy film gives Jenkins the role of a lifetime

Overture Films

Release date: April 11

Tom McCarthy’s “The Visitor” has defied long odds to become the year’s indie sleeper hit thus far. With post-9/11 political subject matter and a lack of star names, no one would have predicted the low-budget New York drama to go as far as it did: $9.2 million at the box office (one of the year’s biggest takes for a nonstudio pic), Deauville’s top prize and a bunch of excellent reviews.

“The Visitor” is among just a handful of indies that could make it into the bigger Oscar categories. It may be “a small film,” as the Baltimore Sun’s Michael Sragow writes, but “it’s also an incandescent one.”

Richard Jenkins, the hardworking character actor known for his recurring role as the deceased father in “Six Feet Under,” stars as a widowed Connecticut professor whose life is upended when he returns to his New York apartment and finds two immigrants living there. While the movie’s co-stars (Haaz Sleiman, Danai Jekesai Gurira and Palestinian actress Hiam Abbas) were all embraced by the critics, the movie belongs to Jenkins. Across the board, reviewers have championed “the quiet precision” (New York Times) of Jenkins’ understated performance as a man subtly and profoundly transformed. Like many an actor long overdue for recognition, Jenkins, like Josh Brolin, is being taken seriously as a lead player.

Director McCarthy, an actor by trade (“Good Night, and Good Luck,” “The Wire”), is also a known commodity in Hollywood. For his feature debut, “The Station Agent,” he nabbed screenplay wins from Sundance, BAFTA and the Independent Spirit Awards, though Oscar passed him by. But “The Visitor,” with its wider reach and a fall DVD release that could deepen its fanbase, may have a much stronger shot at an original screenplay nod, long a category that supports indie underdogs.

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