By Jack Dignan
I would just like to thank Denis Villeneuve for simply existing. With every film, he just continues to climb further and further up my list of favourite directors, first gaining my attention with the utterly brilliant Prisoners back in 2013. When a new film of his comes out, I know I'm in for a treat, and if he keeps this up, it seems like there'll be a new Villeneuve movie every year, and I honestly hope that happens. His films aren't just rushed, generic popcorn flicks. They're sophisticated pieces of cinema, Villeneuve continuing to prove himself as a masterclass director, and if he continues to head in the direction he's going, one day he will be looked upon as one of the all time greats, and I'm very excited for that day to arrive.
Arrival is the story of Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist who's fluent in a great many languages. When teaching one day, her students inform her that mysterious alien ships have started landing throughout the globe, 12 in total, and it's not too long after that she's approached by Colonel Webber (Forest Whitaker). Why? Because the government has been able to enter into these mysterious ships, communicating with the aliens, and they want Louise to help translate what the aliens are saying. She's taken to the UFO, and with the help of mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), she must learn the alien language and find out why they've come to Earth.
Sci-fi is my absolute favourite genre, right up there alongside fantasy, and it's a genre with different levels. There's a lot that falls under the heading of sci-fi, and unlike most genres, I find it to be quite versatile. You can have films like Terminator, which features a robot attempting to assassinate the protagonist, or you can have films like Star Trek, which features a starship attempting to explore new worlds, but the genre can also include something along the lines of Guardians of the Galaxy, a ballistic, action packed, visually pleasing romp of a movie. It's a genre with range, and that's one of the reasons why I love it so much.
Arrival is what grounded, modern day sci-fi is all about. It's a film that attempts to be authentic in the way it displays its subject matter. It's an alien invasion movie unlike other alien invasion movies, and while the trailers misdirect you into thinking otherwise, it's a very dialogue heavy story with little to no action throughout. It's all about communication and the power of language, amongst many other things I don't wish to discuss due to the fact that they could be considered spoilers. While it's technically a sci-fi, it's also a simple drama in a lot of ways, using aliens to represent so much more. It's relevant and important, all while being extremely entertaining, even if it does require an awful lot of exposition.
Calling Arrival a 'smart' movie doesn't do it justice. It doesn't appropriately describe what this film is, as it's so much more than just a smart movie. It's not smart, it's a work of genius. It managed to grasp my full attention from start to finish, and in order to watch this movie you're going to want to be giving it your complete concentration. Every component of the plot is all there for a reason, and while not all of it is 100% clear while you're in the moment, it does make sense in the end, and it blew my mind. There's a scene where everything just clicked inside my head, and my appreciation for this movie increased drastically.
However, it's not just about the story. What makes this a great movie goes well beyond that, expanding out to everything that was done behind the scenes. As mentioned earlier, Villeneuve can do no wrong, and like always, his direction is out of this world. The cinematography isn't quite on the same level as something along the lines of Sicario or Prisoners, but that doesn't make it any less brilliant. The effects look good, although not perfect, but this isn't an effects driven film. Sure, they're there, but it's a film with a lot more going on the trailers will lead you to believe, so the occasional moment of imperfect effects didn't really bother me all that much.
There's no other way to put this, but Amy Adams is so good this. Like, *so* good in this. This is without a doubt one of the best performances she's ever given, and she carries this entire film. But that doesn't mean Jeremy Renner is to go without recognition, as he too is quite marvellous, and like with Adams, I would even go so far as to say this is one of his best performances as well. Forrest Whitaker also does an impressive job with his role, and Michael Stuhlbarg is great as a douchey agent, but like I said, this film is resting safely on the shoulders of Amy Adams, and she just steals the show from start to finish.
To sum up, Arrival is a dialogue-based sci-fi story with a lot to say, and it most certainly says it well. It's a genius story that requires your full attention, but it's certainly worth it and will undoubtably grab it. The cast is spectacular, but it's Amy Adams who really steals the show, and if this doesn't get her that long overdue Oscar, I will definitely be disappointed.
4 1/2 Stars