The Visit

A film about the fragmentation of family assembled with uncommon sensitivity, emotion, and power, The Visit takes a clichéd prodigal-son scenario and turns it on its head. Dying of AIDS five years into a prison sentence for rape, Hill Harper seeks forgiveness from his estranged friends and family, but his past behavior and petulant demeanor make reconciliation difficult. Only when Harper begins to understand the complexity of victimization as well as his own complicity in his situation (regardless of his guilt or innocence) can his quest progress. Writer-director Jordan Walker-Pearlman adapted The Visit from a play by Kosmond Russell, but the limitations of the stage actually work to the film's advantage, conveying the isolation, plainness, humiliation, and loneliness of prison while at the same time showing how the guilt and suspicion associated with incarceration can put as much pressure on families as it does on the prisoners themselves. Walker-Pearlman peppers the production with moving flashbacks and subtle but effective fantasy sequences, and the few scenes that take place outside the visiting area (particularly a parole-board hearing) demonstrate the different paths toward redemption. But it's ultimately a handful of compelling performances, particularly Harper's elusive characterization, that hold the film together.

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