A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.
After ‘Nocturnal Animals’ on Friday, ‘Arrival’ marks an Amy Adams double bill and she’s perhaps even better in ‘Arrival’ than she was in that excellent film. The film is Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s follow up to two of the best thrillers from the past few years in ‘Sicario’ and ‘Prisoners’, and it marks a slight detour in genre and style into science fiction, although it retains the simmering tension that made those two films so exhilarating. The film revolves around Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist tasked with communicating with a mysterious alien race who have landed 12 space ships in different locations across the globe. I was surprised at how quickly ‘Arrival’ jumps into its premise with minimal set up but I think the film benefits from the limited focus on exposition.
‘Arrival’ starts almost like it’s picking up at the end of Steven Spielberg’s ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, once the aliens have arrived, and we’re straight into Louise and her colleagues (Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker namely) attempting to communicate and ultimately find out what their purpose on earth is. It’s definitely a slow burner to begin with which isn’t always too the film’s credit, but once it starts to tip its hand and delve into more of the global politics and the emotional elements it really starts to excel. It’s a rare film that doesn’t grab you from the outset yet manages to win you over to the extent you reconsider the importance of earlier events, and ‘Arrival’ falls into that category with a deliberately paced and perfectly calibrated narrative development that really moved me. Beyond ‘Close Encounters’, another film that ‘Arrival’ reminded me of was Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’, a film that I really enjoyed but didn’t quite stick the landing in my opinion. ‘Arrival’ in many respects is the opposite, a film that takes its time to get going but absolutely nails it when it matters, and I found it to be deeply moving and incredibly thought provoking by its conclusion.
One element I wish ‘Arrival’ did focus more on was the global politics and how different nations reacted to the alien threat and to sharing information with each other. It’s hinted at and explored to an extent, but I feel a film this intelligent and well planned out could have done a great job of delving into this in greater detail. Another element that really grabbed me about ‘Arrival’ is the terrific score from Jóhann Jóhannsson, which seamlessly moves between melancholic and emotional at times, yet urgent and tense when the action requires it. His score was one of the standouts in ‘Sicario’ and his work here feels like a perfect blend between the work in that and in the film he scored before that in ‘The Theory of Everything’.
‘Arrival’ is an intelligent sci-fi film aimed at adults, led by a great lead performance from Amy Adams, and with a strong grasp of its complex narrative, particularly when it could get overly convoluted. It doesn’t pretend to have all the answers but this is another great piece of work from Denis Villeneuve who continues to assure himself as one of the best directors around. In ‘Arrival’, he not only matches the tension of ‘Prisoners’ and ‘Sicario’, yet shows a perfect handle of different tones in directing some beautifully affecting emotional material.
Directed By: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg and Tzi Ma