Possible spoilers ahead!
Nearly everything on Earth comes to a stop the day 12 mysterious extraterrestrial spacecrafts appear around the globe. A linguistics expert, Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), and mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) are among those recruited by U.S. Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to help investigate the spacecraft that “landed” in Montana. Their task is to initiate contact with the aliens and finding out:
- The reason they have come to Earth
- What their intentions are.
But communicating with these visitors is easier said than done when Banks and Donnelly discover that the aliens use a written language, but one that is far more complex than anything used by humans. And thanks to impatient Governments, and a scared population, the risk of war between humanity and the extraterrestrials grows every day.
“Arrival” is directed by Denis Villeneuve amd based on Ted Chiang’s 1998 short story “Story of Your Life.” Unlike most alien invasion movies, “Arrival” is a deep character drama that takes its time unraveling the film’s main mystery. You get to know the main characters long before you even get to meet the aliens. But without our connection to Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, none of it would work. Or to put it another way: this movie is everything “Interstellar” wishes it had been.
The story that “Arrival” is trying to tell is not an easy one, but the film transitions seamlessly between the scenes set in the present and those where Louise is lost in her thoughts or daydreams (which are brought on by her attempts to communicate with the aliens). Villeneuve does a brilliant job in keeping viewers engaged in what’s happening onscreen, even as they beg for answers to the big questions that are raised over the course of the film.
“Arrival” also features unique uses of both sound and imagery. The cinematography by Bradford Young doesn’t have a ton of color, but it works well in setting the film’s tone. It also leaves room for some striking visuals and camera movements, especially when the main actors interact with the aliens.
Meanwhile, composer Jóhann Jóhannsson creates a pronounced sense of atmosphere and mood with a simple ambient score, one that mimics the sounds of film’s extraterrestrial visitors. There are moments in the film where sound is used instead of music, and those moments had the audience gasping with anticipation.
As for the acting in the movie, Amy Adams cements her acting chops with yet another strong performance. Adams portrays Louise as someone with an explorer’s spirit and someone with a lonely soul. Louise’s personal journey and evolution over the course of the movie is more interesting to watch because of the wonderful work by Amy Adams.
Jeremy Renner brings his usual mix of wit and confidence that he has while playing in the MCU, while at the same time playing up his character’s scientific outlook and sense of wonder.
Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber is more of a supporting player here, but the Oscar-winner makes his character believable. As soon as you meet this guy, you know he’s the man in charge.
“Arrival” is probably one of those movies that people will either love or hate. But after all my years watching movies in almost every genre, it’s rare when a new movie comes along that completely blows me away. “Arrival” is one of those movies, and one of the best sci-fi movies I’ve seen in a long time.
I have to make one thing clear however: for most of the movie I knew what was going on because there are clues here and there. But it was the way the story was executed that completely blew me away. At the end of the day, “Arrival” is a smart tale of alien contact, with great visuals, and excellent performances.
“Arrival” Final Score: 10