Friday April 20, 2001
"The Visit" powerfully depicts the flowering of spiritual redemption within a young man who has every reason to give in to despair. It marks the directorial debut of Jordan Walker-Pearlman, who in his adaptation of the Kosmond Russell play displays an acute sense of how to realize visually a work intended for the stage while respecting its text. In accomplishing this always challenging task he has had strong assistance from the fluid and expressive camera work of John Ndiaga Demps.
Walker-Pearlman has also been fortunate to attract a formidable cast, with Hill Harper, Billy Dee Williams, Rae Dawn Chong, Marla Gibbs, Phylicia Rashad and Obba Babatunde in the leading roles.
We first meet Babatunde's Tony Waters as he and his wife are entertaining a large number of friends in their upscale home. We then discover that this scene, a moment of high spirits in a setting that spells out considerable personal success, is occurring in Tony's memory while on a long drive that will end at the gates of a state prison, where his younger brother Alex (Harper) is serving 25 years in prison for a rape he swears he did not commit. Before the story is underway, Walker-Pearlman has already established through the camera rather than dialogue the stark contrast between the worlds of the brothers.
Tony hasn't visited his brother in 10 months, blaming the demands of two infant children on top of his job, but Alex, in a hostile mood because he feels so neglected, forces his brother to admit the real reason: shame. It's a shame that penetrates far deeper into their father, Henry (Williams), a stern, self-made man.
Tony had been a loving father figure to his younger brother, and when he left for college, Alex felt abandoned and then overwhelmed by Henry's expectations. Alex fell into a gang, then into drugs, and now that he's dying of AIDS he wants to make peace with his family, whom, with the exception of Tony, he has not seen since his imprisonment five years earlier.
What Alex learns, first through his prison psychiatrist (Rashad), a direct woman, and then through a childhood friend (Chong), is that this peace has to start from within and involve forgiveness. Alex doesn't realize it initially, but in reaching out to his family he has embarked on a course that will challenge him to the utmost.
Alex's loving mother, Lois (Gibbs), never believed that her son was guilty of rape. And Alex was too proud to seek his father's financial help in securing strong legal defense, and his father was too proud--and too angry over his son's lifestyle--to extend help without being asked. Consequently, when Alex was convicted, Henry, in his hurt, shame and unacknowledged guilt over his possible failures as a father, took the view that his son was guilty and deserving of being in effect disowned. Lois dared not cross her old-fashioned patriarch of a husband to try to visit her son.
The changes that begin to take place within Alex and then his family credibly come with much anguish and difficulty. "The Visit" demands and receives much from its cast, especially from Harper and Williams. Playwright Russell, drawing upon the story of his own brother, has made his drama all the stronger for having been fair to Henry. Williams reaches a career high in expressing the crushing disappointment and enraged pain of a man who strived his entire life to provide a solid middle-class upbringing for his sons, only to see his younger son throw it away.
"The Visit's" splendid ensemble cast is further enhanced by the fine actors--Talia Shire, David Clennon, Glynn Turman, Efrain Figueroa and Amy Stiller--who play the members of the parole board. This is a film that stays with you long after the lights have gone up.
The Visit, 2001. MPAA-rated: R, for language and drug content. An Urbanworld presentation. Director-producer Jordan Walker-Pearlman. Executive producers Vicky Pike, Morris Ruskin, Stacy Spikes. Screenplay by Walker-Pearlman; based on the play by Kosmond Russell. Cinematographer John Ndiaga Demps. Editors Alison Learned and Walker-Pearlman. Music Michael Bearden, Stefan Dickerson, Ramsey Lewis, Wallace Roney, Stanley A. Smith. Costumes Carlos Rosario. Production designer John Larena. Art director Andy Brittan. Set decorator Jennifer Knepschield. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes. Hill Harper as Alex Waters. Billy Dee Williams as Henry Waters. Rae Dawn Chong as Felicia McDonald. Marla Gibbs as Lois Waters. Phylicia Rashad as Dr. Coles. Obba Babatunde as Tony Waters.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times