ARRIVAL (USA/12A/116mins)
Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whittaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark O’Brien
THE PLOT: When 12 alien craft arrive on Earth at different pints across the globe, the first thing everyone wants to know is why they are here. Language specialist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is drafted into the arrival site in Montana to try and translate the alien language. All is not so simple however, and Louise and scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) have to first learn the alien language before they can begin to ask questions.
THE VERDICT: Based on the short story ‘The Story of Your Life’ by Ted Chiang, ‘Arrival’ marks the first foray into science fiction by director Denis Villeneuve – who previously brought us ‘Prisoners’, ‘Enemy’ and ‘Sicario’ – but will not be his last as he is currently working on a new version of ‘Blade Runner’. Those familiar with Villeneuve’s style will not be disappointed with ‘Arrival’; a film more about understanding than action.
It comes as no surprise that Amy Adams is on strong form as Louise Banks, and more than able to carry the film. Any emotion that the audience experiences comes from Adams’ performance, and although it may seem as though we do not learn much about the character – other than her dedication to her work – all becomes clear as the film moves forward. Jeremy Renner is a nice counterpoint to Adams, with their chemistry and respect for one another evident on the screen. Renner has considerably less to do than Adams, and seems to be there to back her up, but they are strong together on screen. The two are backed up by Forrest Whittaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma and Mark O’Brien.
Eric Heisserer’s screenplay – adapted from Ted Chiang’s short story – focuses on the unsettling beauty of Montana and the fact that this is where the aliens chose to land. The script cleverly shows the audience much of the vital information in the story, rather than telling us, meaning that we are along for the journey with Louise Banks, and learning as she does. As well as this, this style of storytelling makes for a satisfying cinematic experience, even as we know we ill not quite get all the information until the closing moments of the film. As well as this, there is a serious twist to proceedings that is foreshadowed well, and although thus may not come as a surprise to the more astute audience members out there, it makes the film more one about communication than conflict.
As director Denis Villeneuve ramps up the unsettling feel of the film, but also keeps the beauty of the co-operation and the location evident, and the humanity on both sides of the species divide is all too real throughout ‘Arrival’. Villeneuve paces the film extraordinarily well for an alien arrival film that is not an action flick, and although there are very few set pieces throughout, ‘Arrival’ is a film that is full of suspense and intrigue, and keeps moving for all of its almost 2 hour running time. There are times when it looks as though ‘Arrival’ is going to way of ‘Contac’t, but this is quickly avoided, and although the closing moments of the film border on the twee and saccharine sweet, it is hard to pick this apart since we have been told all along that this is where it is going… It just gets there with a little sci-fi twist. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score and Bradford Young’s beautiful cinematography enhance to action on screen, and reinforce the eerie feel of the film.
In all, ‘Arrival’ is an eerie, unsettling film about communication and language. Adams and Renner are on strong form and work well together, the script is smart and Denis Villeneuve’s direction is top notch. Those wanting a crash bang wallop alien flick need not apply, but if beautifully shot, eerily unsettling flicks about worlds beyond ours are your thing, then your film has… um… arrived.
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Canadian director Denis Villeneuve is certainly a name to watch. From his Oscar-nominated Incendies to more recent films like Prisoners and Sicario, he’s made deep, challenging, thought-provoking films that play within the boundaries of more mainstream genre films. His new sci-fi film Arrival is reflective of that. If Christopher Nolan remade Independence Day, then you might have some idea as to what Arrival is like.

    Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a linguist who has suffered a personal tragedy – the loss of her young daughter. As she says in her opening narration ‘there are days that define your story beyond your life… like the day they arrived’. They being aliens who arrive in vertically-floating spaceships located at twelve random points around the Earth. Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) enlists her to communicate with the aliens, given that she’s one of the top linguists in the country. She arrives at the American site of the alien spaceship, where’s she teamed with theoretical physics scientist Ian (Jeremy Renner) and is watched over by CIA Agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg). Every 18 hours, the alien spacecraft opens and allows Louise, Ian and a team of scientists to enter and communicate with the aliens. They use a visual language consisting of symbols of varying designs. Louise tries to decipher what they’re saying, but time is running out. Other Governments around the world are less than welcoming towards the alien presence and threaten to take action…

    Originally titled Story Of Your Life, a title rejected by test audiences, Arrival is one of those soulful, intelligent sci-fi films that feels more rooted in reality than anything like the gung-ho heroics of Independence Day. It touches on grander themes explored in films like Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Contact and The Abyss: Special Edition. However, it has its own unique voice and way of showing rather than telling what is happening. Much is open to interpretation, as it would be if we had to learn how to communicate with beings from another galaxy.

    Adapted by Eric Heisserer from a Ted Chiang short story, Arrival occasionally looks outward but is primarily an inward-looking film that says a lot more about humanity than it does about aliens and why they’re here. Part of that is down to perspective. The film is told from Louise’s point of view. We don’t get to see the alien spaceship properly until she does up close. Following her story of discovery gives the film a personal edge, much like Ellie in Contact. Adams is excellent here, able to convey Louise’s loss of her daughter and fearless wonder at the aliens’ language and meaning at the same time. Renner is equally good too, bringing some humour to the story as well.

    The sparse but impressive production design of the spaceship interior and the alien visual effects are actually refreshing. Instead of bombarding you with snazzy visuals, Villeneuve pares things down so that you focus more on the human element. That can often get lost in effects-heavy films. The sound design and music by Johann Johannsson is a character of its own and underscore the high emotions running through the film. In the end, Arrival is really a film about us and how we deal with ourselves when confronting the unknown. There’s a lot to be said for that. There can be no doubt now that Blade Runner 2046, Villeneuve’s next film, is in very safe hands. Arrival is a wonder to behold. ****