Dennis Villeneuve has been making quite a name for himself the last few years. Films like Prisoners, Enemy and Sicario have shown that his name belongs up there with the best of his contemporaries, like Fincher, Aronofsky and the like. Arrival just reaffirms that with an expertly shot film that shines a light on not only how the human race would deal with alien contact, but how we deal with each other.
Amy Adams is Louise Banks, a linguistics professor who is recruited by the US government when 12 alien crafts land around Earth. Chosen for her expertise and because she still has valid clearance from a previous collaboration, Dr. Banks is whisked off to one of the landing sites in Montana to attempt to communicate with the aliens.
There she is assigned to lead a team alongside Ian Donnely (Jeremy Renner) a theoretical physicist. There they attempt to learn an extra terrestrial language to understand why these beings are here, while dealing with the operation’s commanding officer Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) and government bureaucrats.
Eventually, as expected, co-operation starts to break down between the nations involved as they all butt heads over how to deal with the interstellar guests. Fears swell over the aliens and their intentions, while we begin to wonder if we can work together long enough to figure this all out.
Arrival essentially is a conversation between two different entities spread across multiple sessions. Each one contributes to a growing understanding of each other as each sides slowly begin to decipher each others languages. Using this as a framework, there are many examinations of humanity, our role in the universe, our fears and how we deal with them, and even time, fate, and freewill.
Dr. Banks is our window through which we view the film’s events. She is played beautifully by Adams as a smart yet vunerable person, who while excelling at her work clearly has many challenges and visions haunting her. She has a humanity that draws you to her, and makes her the perfect person to try to communiate with the visitors.
One touch I especially liked is that, with her being our eyes, we never see the ships (let alone the aliens) until she arrives on site to see them in person. The movie goes out of it’s way to avoid showing them before that point, it’s a shame the marketing department pasted the ships all over the trailer and posters.
Rounding out the cast is another great performance by Jeremy Renner. He is every bit as good as Adams, don’t get as much time with him and he feels less fully fleshed out.
Forest Wittaker is good as the Colonel, but he is basically playing the same character he always plays recently. Tough authority figure who is understanding but has his hands tied by higher ups.
The film itself is gorgeous, with wide shots and really pretty imagery. Villeneuve and his DP did an incredible job shooting this. The massive scale and inhuman look of the ship, it’s interior and contents are conveyed stunningly, accompanied by another home run of a score by Jóhann Jóhannsson that just elevates the film to a breathtaking, entrancing experience. The film manages to be both part epic and part intimate, crafting a more personal story than we have gotten out of big studio Sci-Fi lately.
Arrival is not just an indictment of humanity’s conflict and fear of that which is different that us.. It sees a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel and remains hopeful for what we can achieve in the future. If we can find a way to try to speak to an alien race, maybe someday we can also be able to speak peacefully among our own race.
Verdict: Must See
James is aware that there was a film called The Arrival in 1996, starring Charlie Sheen.
He remembers sorta liking that film while many other people thought it was bad. Those people were probably correct.
This film is a better film than that one. A much better film.