Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner & Forest Whitaker
Synopsis: A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.
Rating: 12A Duration: 116 minutes Release date: 10 November (UK)
Far too few films are released these days that are smart, thought-provoking and entertaining all in one and those that do get made are rarely seen by a wider audience outside of the die-hard genre fans. Arrival is one such film that deserves to be seen by everyone and fully deserves any accolades that come its way. Rather than brow-beat its audience with grandiose action and an over abundance of CGI, Arrival takes a considered approach and trusts that the audience are smart enough to figure out its message rather than have it handed to them on a plate.
When a series of alien crafts appear at locations across the globe, the worlds governments scramble specialist teams to these locations in an attempt to discover what our guests want and if they pose any sort of threat to the human race. The US government enlist the help of linguist Louise Banks (Adams), mathematician Ian Donnelly (Renner) and Colonel Weber (Whitaker) who must work to decipher the aliens message and do it before any other nations react in a way that can only end badly.
Arrival starts as it means to go on by gripping you from the very beginning. It’s opening gambit shows us Banks raising her daughter in a truly heartbreaking fashion and succeeds in showing more genuine emotion in this short space of time than most films spend two hours doing. This all happens before the first sighting of anything from another world and director Denis Villeneuve shows real class here by building Banks’ character into something believable and who the audience can have a genuine emotional attachment towards.
It’s this type of affective storytelling that keeps Arrival ticking. People like Forest Whitaker’s US Army Colonel and Jeremy Renner’s mathematician could be underwritten and full of clichés, but Villeneuve and writer Eric Heisserer won’t stand for such one-dimensional writing and concentrate on making each scene and every word feel important. This dedication to craft makes Arrival feel like a genuinely smart and evocative film. It is entirely easy to throw around buzz words that will land on a films poster, but it’s difficult not to get carried away and laud Arrival with lots of lovely words.
As the film progresses the sense of tension escalates as our trio struggle to find answers to the aliens intentions and the various governments who are meant to be working together slowly go off the grid as the more trigger happy nations contemplate showing their considerable muscle and cancelling out the perceived threat in the only way they know how. Bridging these scenes are some truly wonderful moments. Seeing Amy Adams’ linguist breakdown one simple sentence to Whitaker’s Colonel is remarkable in showing how complex our language can be, while teaching us all a lesson at the same time.
Arrival is littered with some truly beautiful imagery displayed in ways that sound wholly mediocre on paper, but on-screen they become something wonderful. Seeing Adams and Renner interact with these tentacled creatures through a white board and some simple instructions is striking to behold and really knocks home the message that if we actually sat and spoke to each other rather than shout and insult each other, then we might end up all the better for it.
People may throw stones at Arrival claiming it’s too slow, plods along and is too boring for a modern science-fiction film. There’s little in the way of bombast or blockbuster money-shots and even when it does threaten to slow down, then it all of sudden takes a dramatic turn and envelopes you once again. The ability of Arrival to keep you involved to the very end and to keep the emotion ramped up through a delicate mix of smarts, good storytelling and believable, sympathetic characters sounds simple enough, but it’s no easy task to carry it out.
It may seem one-sided, but I can only think of good things to say about Arrival. It’s a sure shot to end up in my top 10 films of the year list and it is the only film this year that I genuinely want to see again to take it all in. Beautiful.