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'The Visitor'

Not one but two widowed, disillusioned college professors cluttering up movie screens this week — what're the chances? If Smart People's snarling comp-lit instructor isn't very good cinematic company, at least spending time with The Visitor's macroeconomics sad-sack is more rewarding.

Richard Jenkins plays Walter, a 60-something academic mourning the death of his concert-pianist wife as he travels to their long-untended New York City apartment. He finds it occupied by a young Syrian drummer named Tarek (the enormously appealing Haaz Sleiman) and his Senegalese girlfriend Zainab (Danai Gurira), who've been scammed into thinking they've rented the place. They quickly pack, but Walter lets them stay.

Over the next few days, a musical connection kicks in — and it provides the film with its most engaging scenes, as Walter and Tarek bond over drumming sessions. Alas, a subway misunderstanding leads to a racial profiling, and Walter discovers that both Tarek and Zainab have long outstayed their visas, which pulls the film in a different direction entirely.

Writer-director Thomas (The Station Agent) McCarthy's outrage about U.S. immigration policies echoes that of the recent indie hit Under the Same Moon. But it's the music that makes this one special.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
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