I think this might be one of the more difficult reviews I’ve had to write, not because I don’t know where I stand on Arrival (I loved it), but because it’s so hard to talk about without giving away important plot and story information. And I think that Arrival is a film best watched with as little known about the plot as possible going in. So I’m going to do my best.
Anyway to the important stuff. The film is an adaptation of Ted Chiang’s short story Story Of Your Life and follows the time after 12 Alien Shells arrive at separate points around the globe and two scientists attempt to communicate with the pod in the USA. Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) are both recruited by Colonel Webber (Forest Whitaker) to help determine the alien race’s purpose in coming to earth. The fact that the 12 Shells are scattered around the world means several different nations have to work together in dealing with the situation. We also see that Louise’s is haunted by the death of her daughter, but how the memories of this help her decode the messages from the aliens. Language and communication is obviously a huge part in the film, the principle character is a linguist, and the whole film is about communicating with this race, and it plays into some of the bigger themes in the film.
Director Denis Villeneuve, who came to prominence through gripping thrillers Prisoners and Sicario, now brings his stylistic approach to the science fiction genre. He handles the big ideas of the film well with a final act that feels as though it has real stakes to it. Villeneuve, and screenwriter Eric Heisserer, reveal the mysteries of the film in a thoughtful and genuinely shocking way. I was skeptical as to whether he could deliver a thoughtful Sci-Fi film, but he absolute delivers, and his work with Arrival has me far more excited about the prospect of a Villeneuve directed Blade Runner 2049. Cinematographer Bradford Young and composer Jóhann Jóhannsson help him create such a beautiful atmosphere, and a film that doesn’t rely on action to hold audience’s attention.
The main cast of the film is fairly small, but all the major performances are excellent. Actress Amy Adams delivers another brilliant performance. I said she was good in Nocturnal Animals recently, but she’s even better here and could well be heading for award nominations at the very least. She’s brings a far more intimate touch to Arrival, managing to bring an emotional smaller scale story alongside the big themes of the story. Jeremy Renner alongside her brings a touch of humour to the film to add a little levity at time. He also has some great chemistry with Adams, as they play off each other well.
What really impressed me about Arrival is that it isn’t the standard fare of blockbuster science fiction like a Transformers, Independence Day, or even Star Wars. Instead it’s a more thoughtful Sci Fi film, not one just about aliens coming to earth. There are big ideas behind the film, and it really comes through. Arrival reflects how we react to outside forces, as many portions of the planet react to the aliens with hostility, despite still being unaware of their intentions. It’s also a film about how we must unite together as world, overcome our differences and connect. A message that has only become more relevant in the days leading up to the film’s arrival (sorry) in cinemas. It’s a film with something to say about humanity, and a message about how we can be better.
Arrival is a masterpiece of science fiction filmmaking. Everything about the film is well executed. Villeneuve’s direction, Adams’ performance, the brilliant and gripping story, it all comes together. The fact that the film manages to be about such big important ideas as well as a very emotional personal story is so impressive. Arrival is sure to be one of the major contenders for awards season, and for me it should be winning the big prizes, because this is the best film I’ve had the fortune to see in 2016.