Arrival: Film Review
Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Director Denis Villeneuve returns with a masterfully heady mystery puzzle box film that's simultaneously a slice of sci-fi but also a meditation on love and communication.
Amy Adams is linguistics Professor Louise Banks, who's called in to help the army when a series of giant objects (12 in total) touch down around the world in a first contact situation. As various superpowers scramble both their weaponry and experts to work out what's wanted, Banks and a team work with their alien visitors to try and crack the code.
But with escalating tension and paranoia, is the world about to be pushed to the limit and react in a way that's apocalyptic?
As usual, Villeneuve brings his eye for suspense and teetering edge of your seat moments with measured and controlled story-telling that appears to be in no rush to reveal its hand.
Eloquently and elegantly shot with some impressive cinematography and an atmosphere of brooding, Arrival is both reverent of its genres and simultaneously new as well. With the language of the heptapod visitors expressed in inky black circles, the film exudes a rudimentary look that's compelling as it plays out. Equally, the soundscape created in the creatures' inner sanctum is audacious and embracing, giving a feeling of the other-worldly as well.
But Incendies, Enemy, Sicario and Prisoners director Villeneuve is never in any rush to hurry along the proceedings, preferring to use long slow shots to build elements of uncertainty and foreboding - it's easy to see why the anticipation is so delicious throughout. It may be based on the short story "Story of Your Life" and straddled with sci fi tropes (mysterious obelisks et al), but it becomes its own beast. (Though a visual nod to another of Villeneuve's films' ending Enemy is perhaps a moment and an Easter Egg only connoisseurs of his films will appreciate)
Stripped of its sci-fi elements and the rather cliched Chinese super-power meltdown / human panic, Arrival is at its heart a meditation on love and language, as well as communication, that's difficult to discuss without spoilers.
Anchored by an impressive Adams who imbues the film with an earthiness that's needed and a fragility that's obvious as her story plays out, it's a trip that's masterful in its execution and gripping in equal measure.
The star of the piece though is once again Villeneuve. As with previous ventures (Sicario, Incendies, Enemy and Prisoners), he demonstrates great flair in adapting the short Story of Your Life novella and turning it into an exercise in anticipation that never manages to over-stay its welcome, and imbues the genre with a freshness that's both reverential and feeling new. Whether it's stretching out Banks' first meeting with the heptapod aliens in an audacious sequence that grips and gives you a sense of the fear, excitement and trepidation that Banks must be feeling.
Ultimately, Arrival does concern itself with aliens and their appearance, but its themes are predominantly more human as it loops around its timelines in its Ouroboros way; love, language, connection, fate and the propensity to take a chance on what's potentially ahead. They're not new themes in the sci-fi world, but they're certainly given a fresh inventiveness and a polish that renders them compelling, intriguing and palpably exciting.