First Hit: This is a wonderful film that is very well written, acted and directed.
Richard Jenkins plays Walter Vale a widower college professor who has lost his zest for life. He is sleepwalking through his courses and the students know it.
Marking this malaise is watching him whiting out the date on last year’s syllabus to put the current year’s date on it because there are no changes in the course and he is to lazy to make a new one. He is forced to present a paper, on which he only was a minor participator, at a conference in New York City which gives him a chance to stay in his apartment in town.
Arriving at his apartment he finds it occupied with a couple played by Haaz Sleiman (as Tarek) and Danai Gurira (as Zainab) who believe they have legally rented it. Both of them are illegal aliens and are afraid of being caught by the police.
Walter, feeling sorry for their plight of being put out on the street, lets them stay in his guest room. Zainab make jewelry which she sells on the street and Tarek is a drummer which intrigues Walter so Tarek gives him lessons.
As Walter learns the drum, for the first time in years, Walter slowly finds some joy and happiness in his life. The rhythms of the African beat give him life and he starts practicing and playing with Tarek whenever he can.
However, Tarek gets caught by the police and is sent to a holding prison. From there the story unfolds bringing in Tarek’s mother Mauna (played by Hiam Abbas) who helps connects all the characters and brings additional life to this wonderful picture.
The story is excellent and the acting is superb especially Jenkins who in a wonderful way opens small doors and windows to his soul all through the film. The direction by Tom McCarthy (who also directed “The Station Agent”) did a wonder job of moving the film along and holding scenes long enough that you sense and feel the emotions of the characters.
Overall: This is a wonderful film expressing one of our country’s more difficult issues, immigration.