Movie Review: Arrival
Amy Adams (right) as Louise Banks in ARRIVAL by Paramount Pictures
“If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?”
-Dr. Louise Banks
***This review is spoiler-free***
From the director of Sicario and Prisoners is a sci-fi film that is poetic in nature, cerebral in its execution while touching upon the fluidity of time, the importance of language, loss, love and grief.
Amy Adams stars as Dr. Louise Banks, a gifted linguist tasked with finding a way to communicate with alien visitors after twelve vessels land in different locations around the globe. Of course, their reception is met with curiosity, fear, vigilance and a healthy dose of military preparedness and skepticism. Jeremy Renner is Ian Donnelly, a theoretical physicist with a penchant for one-liners and wry smiles. Forest Whitaker dons camouflage and a stern disposition as the stressed Army officer-in-charge, Colonel Weber.
The film is shot beautifully courtesy of the brilliance of cinematographer Bradford Young (Selma, A Most Violent Year) and Villenueve’s discerning eye. The most effective shots: sweeping aerial views that capture the size of the alien vessels and how little we are in comparison to them. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s avant-garde score is the perfect companion as it’s jarring, soothing, bombastic, then fades into the background with perfect timing.
Based on the Nebula Award-winning short story Story of Your Life written by Ted Chiang, the screenplay (adapted by Eric Heisserer) wrestles with big questions about humanity: How do we respond to the unknown without knowing if it’s friend or foe? How do we come together to make decisions for mankind since there is no singular leader? Do we destroy ourselves until one group emerges victorious? How long before we turn against each other or break ranks? The two biggest questions in the film: how do you communicate with an unknown entity if you have nothing in common and is language itself a gift or a weapon?
Although the presence of aliens is the driving force for much of the action that takes place, this is not a movie about a violent invasion like Independence Day or War of the Worlds. This is much deeper than your standard summer popcorn blockbuster flick, taking viewers on a journey along with Amy Adams as she delivers a raw and pretty compelling performance. Louise isn’t a hero. She doesn’t spend her time running from room to room demanding to speak to the President or giving “today, we celebrate our Independence Day” speeches. This isn’t that movie. Her best moments are the quiet moments in the film where she digs in to her past for answers and guidance to their present situation or sits in awe of the enormity of the task at hand. Jeremy Renner…well, bless Jeremy. His Ian is basically Hawkeye from The Avengers if he were a scientist in another life or some alternate universe, complete with his one-note, know-it-all delivery. Forest Whittaker is the authoritarian glue that holds them together with the goal of getting answers and getting them fast. It may not sound like it, but together it all works.
For fans of dark, cerebral, Christopher Nolan type sci-fi (see: Inception or Interstellar and the like) or even time-related sci-fi (Doctor Who, Fringe, early [read: better] seasons of Lost), this will be right up your alley. I won’t say Arrival is a perfect film and the big reveal may generate mixed reactions from some moviegoers. However, it is a highly entertaining and thought-provoking piece of work with heart, style, and staying power.
Arrival opens in theaters November 11th.
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams (American Hustle, Nocturnal Animals), Jeremy Renner (The Avengers and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) and Forest Whitaker (The Butler, Rogue One – A Star Wars Story)
This review also appears here.