Arrival is a magnificent science-fiction film which perfectly achieves the balance so many large-scale movies aim for, and often fail to accomplish: to create a film that is impressive in its visual scope, yet maintains an emotional intimacy in amidst the plot and special effects. This is Dennis Villeneuve’s (Enemy, Sicario) best film yet – it’s also one of the very best films of the year thus far.
Like Villeneuve’s previous film, Sicario, which starred Emily Blunt as an FBI Agent fighting the War on Drugs, Arrival places a female protagonist in a male-centric environment, and examines the conflicts that arise from this. Amy Adams is linguist Dr Louise Banks, whose University lecture is poorly attended after 12 mysterious, minstrel-shaped spacecrafts arrive from the sky and settle themselves all over the world. Louise is approached by the military to help them translate the sounds emitted from one spacecraft, which landed in Montana, with help from Jeremy Renner’s physicist Ian Donnelly.
“Like the best works of science fiction, he tackles big themes: life, death, dynamics of time, and communication.”
Arrival, ironically, begins with a departure: Louise’s teenage daughter dies from cancer. This sense of loss subsequently hovers over the film’s events, and makes the aliens seem not only an urgent situation for humanity, but also inextricably linked with the grief that this one character is experiencing.
Adams provides a quietly powerful human core to the film. Both her and Renner display a seemingly effortless skill in portraying the intelligence of their characters, and share an easy chemistry.
Villeneuve, meanwhile, has some big ideas on his mind – like the best works of science fiction, he tackles big themes: life, death, dynamics of time, and communication.
As the film progresses, and the nations of the world struggle to coordinate themselves and deal with the crisis, it becomes clear that if we can’t even communicate with our neighbours, how can we even begin to try communicating with extraterrestrial beings? The film notably, and perhaps ironically, displays the way aliens force the characters to look inwards, at the conflicts and divisions on our own planet, rather than outwards.
“With the intricate plot and ambitious scientific concepts boiling down to one, translucent message, about love and loss.”
Like recent science-fiction outputs Gravity and Interstellar, Arrival demands to be experienced on the big screen. However, while the former two films focus on the journey out into space, Villeneuve’s film is a methodical depiction of what would happen if extraterrestrials came to us – in this way the film is akin to something like Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Arrival’s visual style is, on the whole, far more understated than the aforementioned science-fiction blockbusters, modestly choosing to go for a muted colour palette and a minimalist approach to the aliens and spacecraft.
It is no less effective because of this. There are some truly dazzling sequences: the journey into the spacecraft followed by the first meeting with the extraterrestrial beings is one of the most captivating sequences in recent memory, aided by a terrifically grand score from Jóhann Jóhannsson.
Furthermore, the final confrontation between Louise and the extraterrestrial life is also remarkable in its minimalist beauty. One can’t help but look forwards to Villeneuve’s upcoming Blade Runner sequel, because if it looks anywhere near as good as this, it’s going to be a winner.
Arrival is ingenious in its narrative structure, which grows more and more complicated as it progresses, leading to a heart-wrenching finale that is as intelligent as it is affecting, with the intricate plot and ambitious scientific concepts boiling down to one, translucent message, about love and loss.
It is a testament to Villeneuve’s skill as a director that he conveys these ideas with such clarity, grace and poignancy, as well as a testament to Amy Adams’ ability to move us in such a natural, unpretentious manner. Goosebumps may be experienced.
Arrival is an intelligent and beautiful science-fiction film, which immerses its bold scientific ideas within an immensely moving human story, portrayed to great effect by Adams and Renner.
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Media courtesy of 21 Laps Entertainment and FilmNation Entertainment.