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1 item from 2000

The Visit

18 December 2000 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Visiting one lone theater (Laemmle's Sunset 5 in West Hollywood for one noon show daily) in a bid for awards consideration, writer-producer-director Jordan Walker-Pearlman's "The Visit" is already a winner and a triumphant first release from New York-based Urbanworld Films. Destined, hopefully, to reach more moviegoers at a later date, the low-budget drama about a fractured black family earned a Special Recognition from the National Board of Review as well as several kudos from festivals and NAACP Image Awards nominations for supporting actors Billy Dee Williams and Marla Gibbs.

Hill Harper ("Loving Jezebel", CBS' "City of Angels") heads a great cast in this absorbing, moving adaptation of Kosmond Russell's play. Based on Russell's relationship with his brother in an Ohio prison, "The Visit" is structured around the emotionally charged encounters between incarcerated Alex Harper) and his family members who reluctantly come to see him. Walker-Pearlman, in his feature screenwriting debut, adapts the material with nary a false step.

The film opens with Alex's successful older brother Tony (Obba Babatunde) visiting the prison for the first time in 10 months. Sentenced to 25 years for a rape he claims he didn't commit, Alex is deeply hurt by his family's abandoning him to his fate. He also has AIDS, and fears he will die in prison. It has been five years since Alex saw his parents, and he reaches out to Tony for help.

Admitting to the prison psychiatrist (Phylicia Rashad) that he's made mistakes in the past but maintaining his innocence, Alex gets his wish when his parents come for a short, poignant reunion. But while his sympathetic mother (Gibbs) listens to him and reasserts her unconditional love, Alex's father (Williams) has long ago made up his mind that his younger son deserves his punishment. This first encounter with his father ends on a depressing note as they have a joyless group photo taken to remember the occasion.

After this visit and others during the course of the film, Alex has fantasy dreams of a better life where love, understanding and happiness outshine the drab, dangerous prison environment. There are several flashbacks, including young Alex's disappointment when Tony departs for college. Beaten down and desperate but not equating himself anymore with the "guys" who brought him down into the "dirt," Alex is calm and cooperative when he comes before a parole board in one of the film's most astonishing and beautifully executed sequences.

Talia Shire, David Clennon, Glynn Turman, Efrain Figueroa and Amy Stiller play the parole board members, who argue before even seeing Alex when they discover his medical condition. This peek into the process of official redemption provides a complex counterpoint to the struggle Alex has with his domineering, incredibly stubborn father, who cannot forgive his son for the character flaws he inherited and not becoming a "real man."

Another visitor, Alex's childhood friend Felicia Rae Dawn Chong), shows him how a kindred soul can overcome unthinkably grim life events. An ex-drug addict like Alex, Felicia killed her abusive father but has successfully returned to lead a good life. During the nine months the film covers, Alex achieves a spiritual reawakening that resurrects his frayed soul even as he physically weakens and his freedom is denied.

Filmed mostly at the decommissioned Lincoln Heights jail in Los Angeles, "The Visit" has a conservative yet forceful style that brings out the best in all of the performers. Harper is superb, and Williams delivers one of the best supporting performances of the year. Gibbs, Chong, Babatunde and Rashad likewise display all their considerable talents in one of the most important and satisfying films of the year.


Urbanworld Films

Screenwriter-producer-director: Jordan Walker-Pearlman

Based on the play by: Kosmond Russell

Executive producers: Vicky Pike, Morris Ruskin, Stacy Spikes

Director of photography: John Ndiaga Demps

Production designer: John Larena

Editors: Alison Learned, Jordan Walker-Pearlman

Costume designer: Carlos Rosario

Music: Michael Bearden, Stefan Dickerson,

Ramsey Lewis, Wallace Roney, Stanley A. Smith



Alex: Hill Harper

Tony: Obba Babatunde

Henry Waters: Billy Dee Williams

Lois Waters: Marla Gibbs

Felicia McDonald: Rae Dawn Chong

Dr. Coles: Phylicia Rashad

Marilyn Coffey: Talia Shire

Running time -- 107 minutes

MPAA rating: R


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