Beautifully shot, acted, constructed, and remarkably intelligent, Arrival is a stunning film.
From the gut wrenching opening moments, right through to its poignant close, this is a story that will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on those brave enough to dive into a science fiction movie where the focus is on communication, and our understanding of language, rather than on blowing up the landmarks. Independence Day it most certainly is not.
There’s a purposeful decision in the selection of the nondescript locations in which the twelve podlike alien vessels halt in Arrival, hovered just off the Earth’s surface. A dodging of expectations, the first of many that writer Eric Heisserer weaves into the screenplay. Choosing the Montanas and Devons of the world rather than the New Yorks or Londons shifts us away from the densely populated places we might expect otherworldly visitors to gravitate towards (or that cinema has taught us they would). It’s one of several mysteries that the film’s inhabitants pore over in search of answer to their ultimate question:
What do the aliens want?
It’s an intensely smart, and original take on humanity’s first contact with alien life. A film where brains triumph over brawn. Perhaps that’s not the easiest proposition for a studio to market, which might explain why the later trailers paint a more action heavy picture of the movie than we actually get. But there is, in fact, barely a gun to be seen. Only the ever-looming threat of man starting a needless war.
Keeping that prospect at bay is linguistic expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams). She’s pulled in by the government alongside physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to communicate with the aliens, to translate their language, and to find why they are here. And though she learns much about her subjects, it’s what they teach her about humanity, what it means to be human, and the relevance of time that proves more pertinent. It’s this information which she will need to help people see that communication is the key to peace, as world leaders around the globe begin to pull the plug on talks between each nation’s scientists.
We follow Louise into the mouth of the alien ship, share her awe at the creatures she meets, her wonder at the gift they give to her, her frustration at mankind, her desperation to do the right thing, her ongoing pain due to the loss of her child, and we revel in the pro-life choices she makes again and again. Amy Adams wonderfully handles her character’s multiple layers with aplomb, allowing us to feel the impact of each step along with her. Arrival simultaneously feels global in its scale, and yet concisely focussed on one woman’s individual journey. Instead of fixating on the negatives of the larger population’s reactions to the visitors, it homes in on Louise’s progressive, optimistic viewpoint.
It’s brilliantly perceptive storytelling, and it cements director Denis Villeneuve’s place as one of the most interesting filmmakers working in Hollywood today. And as for Adams, it might just be sixth time lucky for her come awards season.
Rating (out of 5):