The release of Arrival comes at a poignant and important time. A film that speaks about our ability (or inability) to communicate with each other whether it be in terms of politics, race, diplomacy or having a drink at your local pub. Storytelling has always had that ability to thread the metaphorical needle of making us think and feel about particular issues without having to provide us with a one to one equivalent. In the case of Arrival, it is a science fiction staple in an alien invasion. What it does with that premise is emotive, intelligent and makes for one of the best films of the year. Find out more in our review.
Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a top linguist in her field and when twelve alien ships arrive on Earth she is called to decipher what little communication they have provided and ask that ultimate question of ‘what is their purpose here?’ Problems arise in this slow process when other nations feel that the alien’s motives are one of aggression and seek to defend themselves.
Science fiction and alien invasion aren’t usually grounds for intelligent or subtle film making and are generally more inclined towards spectacle, you know the explosions and mass destruction that racks up box office takings. Arrival offers us big, muted. monolithic UFOs who alien passengers communicate from behind mist. Humanities interactions with them are across a barrier, in an atmospheric room literally with a canary in a mine designating how long they should stay. It all allows for a different type of movie then you might expect.
Arrival’s simple story and setting allows it to plunge emotional depth with great ease. Arrival doesn’t enter with a story of extra-terrestrials but of tragedy. Of a mother remembering a daughter’s life cut short. It seems like a peculiar place to start this type of movie, but Arrival wants you to understand that this desire to understand these visitors, not from an academic point of view but one driven by personal emptiness. An attempt to connect where no one else could.
It’s than Amy Adams movie to shine in and her character has been given the appropriate depth and back story to give her a solid performance. This is not a character movie though and Jeremey Renner and Forest Whittaker are given very little to work with, a direct contrast to what Amy Adams is offered. Who are these men, what are their motivations are barely surfaced?
Still, this is a movie that is about a linguistics professor, not the military, at its core. But it’s probably at this point that people will either be committed to the journey or not. The journey is one of discovery and while I’m sure the process would take months; the efficiency of storytelling make things move along. It’s all fascinating to watch as this complicated language is discovered and unearthed. Hours spent looking at a computer screen is hardly compelling action but somehow here it works. A fascinating look at how we learn to speak and listen. The revelation about the mah-jong set is still sitting me as I write this.
There is simmering tension here, factions within the military try and take over the ship at one point, countries bicker and their research is hidden. It’s intriguing background noise to the main story but it fleshes out the plausibility of the whole thing. But for some the subtly of this tension may dull the whole film a little bit for some. If you’ve seen director Denis Villeneuve, Prisoner or Sicario, knowing that pacing will pay off in an impactful way later.
Much like the other high concept science fiction movie of recent history, Interstellar, Arrival relies on a somewhat unconventional twist. It resonated for me and feels more earned then what took place in that other film, but I have a feeling it will breed the same level of controversial. It’s not an out of left field twist and it’s teased at throughout. It makes the emotional pull of the film and the stakes involved higher and more personal. I’m looking forward to having those discussions with those who have seen it.
Arrival Review Cheat Sheet:
In the end, I felt stimulated intellectually, moved emotionally and left a little bit in awe of the whole thing. Arrival takes place in a world very much like our own and so detailed special effects or heroes and bad guys just aren’t needed for the movie. This is a movie that is intelligent, heartfelt and easily one of the best of the year. Flawed on occasion and perhaps not to everyone’s taste, it still rewards and transcend an often cliché genre. A must see.
+ Intelligent take on over used sci-fi concept.
+ Emotional core that works from the outset
+ Great performance by Amy Adams
+ The use of language as a means to explore human communication.
-Twist may upset some
– A little subtle for some.