Friday, March 07, 2008

Tom McCarthy's Encore

Tom McCarthy is back. Not that he's ever really been away.

McCarthy, whose first film "The Station Agent" (2003) was one of the more humane - and irresistibly odd - film comedies in recent years, has returned at long last with his second film, "The Visitor," opening April 25th.

Like his debut film, McCarthy's sophomore effort is an incredibly empathetic consideration of the relationships among seemingly mismatched people who come together to form a sort of makeshift family. All of their contrasting, contradictory parts somehow add up to a perfect whole. And just as McCarthy provided the talented Bobby Canavale with his breakthrough role in "The Station Agent," he brings ace character actor Richard Jenkins out of the shadow of supporting roles and showcases him in a long-overdue star role.

The part was especially written for Jenkins by McCarthy - that of a closed-off widower, on automatic pilot at the Connecticut university where he teaches, whose life is enriched by an unexpected encounter with an illegal immigrant (played by the wildly charismatic Haaz Sleiman).

I've spent the five years since "The Station Agent" wondering whatever happened to this young filmmaker, unaware that he's been right in front of me all along - playing crucial supporting roles in a series of high-profile films, most notably Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers" (in which he essayed the part of the grown son of the Ryan Phillippe/George Grizzard character), Mike White's "Year of the Dog" (in which he played Molly Shannon's brother and Laura Dern's husband); Steve Zaillian's recent remake of "All the King's Men" and two George Clooney movies, "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Syriana." He's also been active on HBO's "The Wire" as the character of Scott Templeton.

Anyway, I had no idea that the auteur Tom McCarthy was also the actor Tom McCarthy. Turns out, he's as affable and easy-going an actor as he is a filmmaker.

Oddly enough, "The Station Agent" was not mentioned among McCarthy's credits in Paramount Vantage's press notes for "Year of the Dog," only his acting stints.

Apparently, he likes to keep both careers separate. Which is why most critics haven't made the connection.

As an actor, McCarthy has another role in the can - in Chad Lowe's "Beautiful Ohio," opposite William Hurt and Rita Wilson.

But right now, there's "The Visitor" to anticipate - clearly a companion piece to "The Station Agent" in that it aches with the same sense of humanist hope and demonstrates what can be achieved when someone stops stop long enough to consider another's situation and needs. As a bonus, McCarthy works in a fragile love story, tenderly played by Jenkins and the classically beautiful Hiam Abbass (as Sleiman's mother).

On several levels, his new film reminds me of Hal Ashby's "The Landlord"(1970), which dealt with a young white man's belated coming-of-age among the blacks of New York's Park Slope area.

The role that Beau Bridges played in "The Landlord" is not far removed from Jenkins' character in "The Visitor," except in terms of age. Jenkins' Walter Vale may be a generation older than Bridges' Elgar Enders - and more educated and seemingly sophisticated - but he is every bit as naïve.

With his two films, Tom McCarthy has come to specialize in the barely contained emotional conflicts of people in need of change and he does so with compassion and uncommon delicacy.

Note in Passing: Jenkins started his career as a dancer and then a choreographer.

(Artwork: Renaissance man Tom McCarthy; Jenkins and Abbass in a scene from McCarthy's "The Visitor")

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com


j kaiser said...

Casting Richard Jenkins in the lead role just shows what great director McCarthy is.

Anonymous said...

This makes me want to see "The Visitor." Thanks for the heads-up.


joe baltake said...

wwolfe- Thanks again. as always, for the response/comment. I've noticed that you usually click on the "Anonymous" tab and then type your name in the message. Just a tip: If you click on the "Name/URL" tab and type in your name, wwolfe, your comment will register. You don't have to subscribe or anything, and there is no need to put in a URL. That way you'll be IDed as wwolfe, not anonymous.

jbryant said...

I saw the trailer for this recently and thought it looked great, primarily for giving center stage to Richard Jenkins, who is always gold.