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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 here.
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