Richard Jenkins gets his groove back with a little help from his friends

Richard Jenkins gets his groove back with a little help from his friends

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Oscar nomination: Best Actor – Richard Jenkins

This is a quiet little film from Thomas McCarthy, the writer/director of 2003’s The Station Agent, about the power of music to draw us out and connect us. Walter (Richard Jenkins) is a Connecticut college professor who has taught the same class for 20 years and claims to be writing a book, though he’s mostly just avoiding other people. When pressed to present a paper in New York, he finds an immigrant couple has taken up residence in his apartment in the city, and an unlikely friendship results between himself and Tarek (Haaz Sleiman). Just as Tarek begins to teach Walter to play the djembe, an African drum, and “to feel, and to not think,” Tarek is arrested and Walter discovers that he and his girlfriend Zainab (Danai Gurira) are in the country illegally. Walter finds that he is the only person who cares about Tarek that can visit him while in detention, as both Zainab and Tarek’s mother, Mouna, are illegal and can’t risk it.

Richard Jenkins gives a subtle and nuanced performance as a man who is not looking for a connection, but finds one anyway. What he learns from Tarek changes the meter of his life and there’s no turning back to his old hermit ways.  Haaz Sleiman’s portrayal of Tarek is especially moving, from his joy when playing the djembe, to his despair as a Muslim detainee in post-9/11 New York City. Hiam Abbass (Mouna) has quiet dignity as the mother who can only comfort her son from a distance, and who completes the reopening of Walter’s heart.

Fans of Fela Anikulapo Kuti will appreciate the soundtrack and fans of Greenwich Village will appreciate the location shots. I liked the whole dang thing.

Viewing note: This is the first Oscar Run movie I saw by using my cable company’s On Demand service. Pretty good price ($6), couldn’t be more convenient, and it was in HD. Oscar Runs are getting easier all the time!