Arrival – 2016

Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay by Eric Heisserer based on “The Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang
Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma, Mark O’Brien

For those of us who are interested in good sci-fi, Arrival hits the mark pretty solidly on the head. Approaching the concept of first contact from a practicality rarely seen in films, it asks questions few movies dare to ask. One that kept coming to mind for me, Prometheus, loses its lustre just a smidgen.

One always knew that the Ridley Scott attempt at an opus took short cuts that undercut the grander vision for which it’s aimed. When seeing the courage Arrival has in breaking down tasks to the most basic level, it’s easy to understand they will lose some people. For those who want to give up and say it’s too hard, know this, my 10 year old daughter figured it out before they even entered the ship.

This is not to say the film is predictable. It is not entirely. There are so many wider questions that the story asks us to ponder, it is easy to understand why this film has not become the blockbuster it deserves to be. There are very few explosions, the firefights take place mainly offscreen. The bluster is as much philosophical in nature as anything.

The thing that catches the willing viewer in this story is the obsession with language and communication. Arrival takes our preconceptions on the tenets of communication and adds another dimension that may or may not be intuitive, depending on your learning style. The process of seeing smart people work out hard challenges is fascinating. Making it something we all can decipher with a little work is even more amazing.

Much of this is due to the writer and director. Villeneuve has cut a swath through the world of cinema that hasn’t been seen by this reviewer since David Fincher. His style is only matched by his ability to find and nurture great material. Heisserer is at his best here, showing much growth from horror remakes to something truly visionary.

The best thing about Arrival is Amy Adams. In a performance sympathetic and not at all maudlin, she gives a multi-layered performance that gives the viewer depth and keeps us wondering what she knows and, importantly, when she knows it. This role should net her a nomination, if not a win. She is a true acting force, on par with the best work that Jodie Foster ever did.

The story is very tight through the first 3 acts and starts to unravel a bit too quickly towards the end. We get to spend the last 15 minutes knowing what happened and just waiting for it to finish. This is not as much a betrayal to the viewer as a concession that some people may need a breather.

See this film. It will give you something to talk about and definitely fill your life with wonder.

(****1/2 out of *****)


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