‘Arrival’ 5 out of 5
Arrival is a science fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve and based on a short story by Ted Chiang ‘Story of your life’. It stars Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner and is centred around the arrival of spacecrafts on earth and the attempts of a linguist (Adams) and a combination of the military and scientists from around the globe to try and discover the reasons for the visit and the aliens purpose.
Firstly it’s important to say that to truly explore this film and its themes I’d need to spoil it so I’ll try and explain what works and why without giving anything away. The second point I need to make is that this really is not a film about humans versus aliens, there is no action, no space battles and no clear cut good guy/bad guy dynamic. This is more character drama than action which may or may not be why I think this is a film that will divide audiences.
The film begins with the introduction of Adams character Louise Banks, a world famous expert on language, who we see has suffered a traumatic loss. As the news reports show us that 12 alien ships have landed across the globe an army colonel (Forrest Whitaker) approaches her and offers the chance for her to initiate first contact. Teaming with scientist Ian Docherty (Renner) and the military, the film follows her attempts at learning an alien language before the powers that be take forceful action.
In terms of performances Amy Adams is simply brilliant, she underplays the emotional punches with a realistic aura of someone not quite sure how to process her painful past while manages to project a sense of awe at the events surrounding her, most notably when she first meets the aliens. Her reaction to this event mirrors the audience and allows us to be in awe too, fascinated by this unearthly entity. There is a scene late in the film between her and her daughter that I think is one of the best acted, most moving and yet simple moments in a film for a long time.
The supporting cast all perform well, Renner managing to balance the drama with moments of levity while the rest, in particular a Chinese General, all have well fleshed and believable character moments. This is another huge plus, where a lesser film might have the standard warmongering military commanders or the rival scientist trying to undermine the hero, this has real characters reacting in a real way to a fantastical situation.
Visually the film is stunning, some of the shots are almost dreamlike and yet for a film of this scale it also manages to capture the beauty of simple intimate moments that really raise this above so many other movies you’ll see in this genre or any other. So great story, performances and visuals.
So why is this film divisive? Well the most obvious issue is that as I mentioned earlier this is not a blockbuster, there is no third act explosion of action, there are no stirring speeches or in fact any of the cliches most people would expect. This is a very slow paced and meditative film that is chalk full of big concepts. It borders on being too clever for its own good and some will find that the third act reveal is too much of a leap of faith in a film that, for the most part, is grounded in reality. There is a sense too that the slow burn nature is at times too slow and it may not lend too well to repeat viewing but I feel this would be overly critical of a film that for me, rewarded my patience with a poignant and beautiful conclusion. I couldn’t stop thinking about this movie after leaving the cinema. In fact the more I though about it the more I think this will be considered a classic, must see science fiction masterpiece for many years to come.
In a film full of big ideas there is one that seems the most prevalent…if we stopped to talk, to communicate, to try and understand other cultures and other people perhaps we can learn to share ideas that would benefit us all. If it takes an alien invasion to show us that, then they are most certainly welcome.