| A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.
It’s no secret that Villeneuve is one of my favourite directors around these days. His film ‘Incendies’, one of the best movies I have ever seen, is a hard-hitting and masterful piece on the tension between hate and empathy, force and choice, control and liberty and if you follow me for quite some time, you know how I feel about ‘Enemy’. In ‘Arrival’, Villeneuve applies his signature style to the genre of science fiction. It challenges the notion that advances in technology are always better than the fundamentals. This enthralling and potent film combines star power with amazing graphics, a gripping story, wonderful themes, a memorable conclusion, intriguing sound, compelling dialogue and of course a great director. Unlike Villeneuve’s previous works like ‘Prisoners’ and ‘Sicario’, ‘Arrival’ isn’t a dark or twisted look at humanity. Instead, Villeneuve chooses to go for a lighter yet still serious tone with the mystery surrounding the arrival of the aliens.
Amy Adams truly is the star of this film as she carries this film with a sense of gravitas but also vulnerability. She shows a woman who is at first terrified from meeting the newly arrived aliens but gains strength when she learns more. Flashbacks to a tragic event also reveal the struggle she goes through especially as the fate of the world is on her shoulders. Jeremy Renner does a good job as a physicist with a dry sense of humor and the dynamic between Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner seemed organic and a hallmark of great acting. Forest Whittaker is also great as the general who isn’t a trigger-happy idiot, but someone whose job is just to get answers in order to find the safest and most humane solution possible.
Cinematographer Bradford Young, who did such as stellar job on ‘Selma’, has worked so well with Villeneuve to elevate this film to a true work of art. Shot after shot has the ability to surprise or unsettle the audience. Perspectives shift often, revealing bits and pieces of the true story, and I joyfully went along for the ride. The depiction of the aliens are haunting. Young also captures the landscapes of Montana with such an unassuming grandeur, allowing Adams and Renner have a truly lovely scene outside the ship. It reminded me of Terrence Malick’s work, where nature always seems to nudge its way into a scene. The production design is stunning, the large pitch black objects hovering over the cities fell instantly dark and foreboding, and the brief sights of the creatures we’re given reveal something wholly original. In terms of technicalities and aesthetic, ‘Arrival’ is a thing of beauty. A unique, visually resplendent film that you never want to take your eyes off of.
“We’re in a world with no single leader. It’s impossible to just deal with one of us.”
Just as in his previous movies, Denis Villeneuve employed composer Jóhann Jóhannsson who created an eerie and often unsettling composition for ‘Arrival’. The sound pairs perfectly with the strange other worldly images of the aliens and their craft, the composition adds another layer of complexity to the already foreign and creepy world that is the alien craft. I’m definitely buying that score on vinyl.
So where does it hit perfection for me? The emotion. The power behind the story, and the direction the story takes in its tremendous final act. This is what makes it such a phenomenal film. Based on a short story by Ted Chiang called ‘Story of Your Life’, screenwriter Eric Heisserer adapts a story that smoothly transforms into something much bigger than you could ever have expected it to be. Another stroke of ingenuousness is that the film doesn’t do this in one movement. Rather than drop one bombshell and change its direction, it slowly sets up a series of events, then puts them in motion one by one, binding everything neatly around its central character. It will give you that feeling for the entirety of its final act. It is, of course, entirely possible to work out where it is headed. I did, as a matter of fact, and it just made the whole thing feel that little bit more special. You either work it out and watch as it comes to life before your eyes, or you cluelessly dedicate your time to its finale and feel mesmerised at each and every turn. Whichever you experience, it is wonderful.
Arrival is a film that is more than just about language. It shows how divided we are as a species as each nation and culture interprets the alien’s language in different meanings. And from this lack of clear understanding it creates fear and paranoia that could lead to global war. It shows that despite the mystery that surrounds the unknown, the future can be just as hopeful and bright as it might be scary and we should approach it with confidence. And that’s why I can’t say anything negative about this movie, except that there are some minor post-production issues that do affect my rating. This movie has proved Denis Villeneuve has a range in genre as a director, just like Kubrick, which happens to be his favourite director. I look forward to seeing him continue his work of art in the sci-fi genre with ‘Blade Runner 2049’.
‘Arrival’ gets a 9.5/10.
Shot on 35's rating sheet: 9.5 – 10.0: Excellent! 8.5 – 9.5: Fantastic, but with minor flaws 7.5 – 8.5: Great, but with issues 6.5 – 7.5: Okay, but with major issues 5.5 – 6.5: Had potential, but falls flat hard. 4.5 – 5.5: Disaster!