Arrival is a wonderfully complex, heartfelt tale in the midst of an encounter with the unknown. This is one of the smartest sci-fi films to come around in years and lands as one of 2016’s best films.
Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) is almost numb to the world as she’s still grieving the loss of her daughter. Louise is largely going through the motions until the arrival of 12 alien spacecraft. A military unit under the command of Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker, Southpaw) hopes that Louise and mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner, Captain America: Civil War) can crack the code to communicate with the new arrivals.
Adams has already been nominated for Oscars five times, most recently in the Best Actress race for American Hustle. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where she doesn’t get a sixth nomination. Her performance is so completely genuine.
Adams doesn’t have to make Louise a domineering, alpha female or flashy, charismatic individual who rallies everyone to her cause with some overly dramatic speech. Louise comes across like a real person in an extraordinary situation.
Renner, who co-starred with Adams in American Hustle, offers a solid disarming supporting performance. He’s the kind of character screenwriter Eric Heisserer could have been tempted to write too cute with snappy, punchy lines. Instead, Heisserer sticks to the film’s measured and realistic approach.
Overall, Heisserer avoids making the script — adapted from Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life — too wordy. That choice allows the big moments to speak for themselves and let the actors truly emote what their characters are feeling. With the talent of this main cast, that’s the smart move.
Director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) continues to make the case for being one of Hollywood’s most visionary filmmakers. In his care, Arrival plays out far less like a movie and more of a tense snapshot for one of the biggest moments in planetary history.
There’s an authenticity to his approach that’s grounded despite the fantastic elements. While some filmmakers might emphasize the aliens, Villeneuve devotes more time to the human response. There’s the mounting frustration of Louise and Ian trying to live up to expectations; Weber patiently awaiting a solution and the world leaders considering a more offensive approach.
Villeneuve has a thoughtful way of making movies that appeal to both feminists and mainstream audiences — by simply telling a compelling story that just so happens to have a female lead. Just like he did with Sicario, the sex of his main character never gets in the way of his story.
Cinematographer Bradford Young takes a substance over style approach that compliments the story very well. Young makes some great lighting choices, particularly in the scenes inside the spacecraft. Villeneuve doesn’t pack his films with several big moments allowing those few special scenes to really stand out. Arrival benefits from that treatment with both the true sci-fi moments and the film’s beautifully realized final act.
Just a week ago, Doctor Strange dazzled audiences with reality-shifting visual concepts originally seen in Inception. Arrival also explores themes from Inception, but in this case, it’s the more cerebral, emotional components.
As enjoyable as the first viewing is, Arrival is probably going to take multiple viewings to fully take in and fully appreciate. I won’t mind. Film experiences like this deserve several encores.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures