MOVIES: What's-His-Name Takes the Lead


  You know the face, even if you don't know the name: Richard Jenkins. (You can do a search at www.imdb.com to remind yourself what he looks like.)
  Whether you've seen Jenkins on HBO's "Six Feet Under" (as Nathaniel Fisher) or in the dozens of movies he has made in the past two-plus decades, you'll recognize him as an ace character actor who's always a pleasure to watch. (I was going to write that he's often the best person in any movie he's in, but since his big-screen debut was in Woody Allen's 1986 classic "Hannah and Her Sisters," which features Academy Award performances from dual Oscar-winners Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest, that's not strictly true.)
  Among the many movies graced by Jenkins' solid, unshowy and always sensitive presence: "North Country" (where he played mine worker Charlize Theron's stubbornly traditional father), "Intolerable Cruelty" (a divorce attorney), "There's Something About Mary" (a psychiatrist), and "Flirting With Disaster" (as a gay FBI agent who takes a hilarious LSD trip after inadvertently ingesting the hallucinogen).
  But in the current, heartfelt drama "The Visitor," Jenkins finally gets a shot at a leading role — and knocks it out of the park. He plays Walter Vale, a widowed, sleepwalking-through-life economics professor who reawakens after meeting the Muslim immigrants who were scammed into renting his New York apartment. Inadvertently, but irresistibly, Walter finds himself reconnecting to life — and finding common ground with kindred spirits who, outwardly, couldn't be more different from his buttoned-down self.
  If there's any justice (and, of course, there seldom is), Jenkins will be remembered come Oscar time for his marvelously understated, undeniably moving "Visitor" performance, one of the year's few standouts so far.
  And even if he's not, Jenkins probably will go right on delivering standout support: His next movie is the Will Farell-John C. Reilly comedy "Step Brothers," due this July, in which he plays Reilly's dad. He's paired with Mary Steenburgen in that one, but it's a good bet he'll be the best person in it just the same.