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Based on a play inspired by a true story, The Visit explores one man's search for understanding and redemption. With the help of a psychiatrist, convicted rapist Alex Waters (Hill Harper) charts a new course that changes forever the fate of those who love him and their memories of him. Written by
Contains good morals and a neat style, but doesn't quite work. **1/2 (out of four)
THE VISIT / (2000) **1/2 (out of four)
By Blake French:
"The Visit" is based on a stage play by Kosmond Russell, which itself was
inspired by personal experiences with his brother in an Ohio prison.
Director Jordan Walker-Pearlman added characters from his own circle of
experience and synthesized the play with another previously written story to
create the screenplay for "The Visit"
"The Visit" is a unique, original experience. It is not merely a prison
drama, but a deep, human, passionate story about finding spiritual renewal
and inner peace. Jordan Walker-Pearlman had good intentions with this often
intriguing motion picture and incorporates solid voice. The movie also
embarks the first full-length motion picture from Urban World Films, a new
independent film company created to distribute and market minority movies.
The film stars Hill Harper as Alex Waters, a young man sentenced to 25
years in prison because of a rape he insists he did not commit. Alex spends
his endless hours behind bars, with only one companion: his prison
psychiatrist, Dr. Coles (Phylicia Rashad from "The Bill Cosby Show"), who
strives to give Alex a greater awareness of himself.
The movie takes us inside a tortured family including Alex's successful
older brother (Obba Babatunde), his unforgiving, controlling father (Billy
Dee Williams), and his loving, passionate mother (Marla Gibbs). Along the
way we also meet a childhood friend of Alex, an incest survivor named
Felicia (Rae Dawn Chong). These characters are forced to reexamine their
stance on Alex when they visit him for the first time in a number of years,
only to learn he is dying of AIDS.
"The Visit" is a smooth ride; there are no road bumps, awkward moments,
undeveloped characters, or major plot problems, but something about it kind
of feels distant. I think it's the various ideas in the thematic basis that
are never completely explored. For instance, Alex insists that he never
raped anyone-a massive point. But we never learn the truth, or any important
information involving this issue. We don't see why he was convicted or what
really happened. A plot hole this big is surely a conscious decision by the
filmmakers; they probably thought this was unimportant, and wanted to focus
on the movie's emotional, family, and spiritual themes. But whether he did
or didn't brutally rape a woman is definitely important. For us to be
involved we need to care for the main character, and I do not usually
empathize with convicted rapists.
The spiritual aspects are also unclear. We know Alex's family is religious,
and we know at the end Alex becomes a changed person because of his
spiritual conviction, but we never see those changes. It is a crime for us
to spend 107 minutes with a character as complex as Alex, and hear that he
experiences complete transformation, but never see it. These little plot
holes really skewer the impact of the narrative.
"The Visit" is not without its redeeming factors. Hill Harper ("He Got
Game"), who received the Emerging Artist Award at the Chicago International
Film Festival in 2000, provides us with a captivating, personal performance.
Billy Dee Williams is also in top form, giving a stark, controlling edge to
his character. The supporting cast is also very convincing.
"The Visit" contains good morals and a neat style. The format for the
storytelling is unusually engaging. The film exposes Alex's inner emotions
with fantasy scenes involving him and the different people in his life.
Walker-Pearlman and cinematographer John Demps also work hard to create
alternatives to the typical cuts back and forth between two characters
sitting across from each another. I give the filmmakers credit for tying to
produce a movie with a fresh flavor, but we don't fully absorb what we taste
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