Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Eric Heisserer (screenplay), Ted Chiang (short story)
Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg
Release date: November 10th, 2016
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 116 minutes
Best part: Adams’ compelling performance.
Worst part: Some dodgy CGI.
In Hollywood, aliens typically come in two forms. Sometimes, they are tentacled monsters hell-bent on obliterating humanity (Predator). Other times, they remind us about peace and love (ET: The Extra Terrestrial). The movies either resemble popcorn-fuelled blockbusters or more calming fare. Arrival undoubtedly falls into the latter category.
Arrival leaps away from stereotypical alien-invasion material. The movie, vying for critics’ recognition over box-office dollars, is worth the largest audience imaginable. It’s worth extended hours of discussion and contemplation. The plot follows university linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) stranded in the present. crushed by her daughter’s loss and ex-husband’s neglect, her cynicism reaches breaking point. However, on a seemingly normal day, twelve extraterrestrial spaceships hover over key sites around the world. Nicknamed ‘shells’ by the US military, the ships do little besides open their doors every eighteen hours. Their reasons for landing are wholly unclear. Louise is recruited by US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to form a team to clarify the aliens’ intentions. Joined by theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), the team studies a shell hovering in Montana.
Besides 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow, viewers must travel back to the 1970s and 80s for a truly engaging and interesting invasion epic. Arrival resembles the type of cinematic masterpiece seldom replicated by filmmakers or seen by audiences today. Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario) and screenwriter Eric Heisserer grasp short story author Ted Chiang’s original material (Story of Your Life). The two deliver the year’s most thought-provoking blockbuster; a movie with enough to do and say simultaneously. Villeneuve and Heisserer’s shared vision immediately kicks into gear. The deliberate pacing and tone may deter wider audiences looking for shootouts and explosions. Here, conversation and action are equally important. The story explores the values of incisive decision-making and processing. Louise and Ian, continually entering the ship and contacting aliens ‘Abbott’ and ‘Costello’, craft a plan to understand the otherworldly language. Its professionals-doing-their-jobs narrative is utterly compelling.
Villeneuve’s atmospheric direction delivers some of 2016’s most compelling sequences. His version of time travel works wonders. Unlike similar fare (Interstellar), the leaps in time and space are never distracting. Louise, experiencing flashbacks to her daughter’s slow demise, sees a puzzle forming in her mind. By the third act, she compellingly connects the dots to find her way. The movie develops several well-rounded perspectives. Along with Louise and Ian’s glowing optimism, we see wise alien beings, careful military types (led by Weber and Agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg)), fearful, right-wing soldiers and foreign military prowess. Like his previous works, Villeneuve draws phenomenal performances from Hollywood élite. Adams, with this and Nocturnal Animals, earns serious Oscar contention as the movie’s heart and soul. Renner and Whitaker deliver likeable turns in smaller roles.
Villeneuve and co.’s vivacious approach separates it from all other 2016 blockbusters. Arrival is a bleak yet optimistic dissection of humanity. Right now, like the movie’s events, the world is on the brink of anarchy and despair. If there was ever a need for intelligent discussion, it is now.