When it comes to cinema, it is always good to see a film that either blows away expectations or shows you something that is truly breathtaking or original. There are many times over the century plus history of this marvellous medium, that this has happened and those works of art that have accomplished this have gone on to live forever. Well, after enjoying some great reviews for his unsettling Prisoners and pulse quickening Sicario, director Denis Villeneuve aims to do just that next year with a sequel to a film that does exactly what we have just suggested, in Ridley Scott’s influential Sci-Fi masterpiece Blade Runner. However before Villeneuve helms Blade Runner 2049, he brings us this Sci-Fi offering, based on “Story Of Your Life”, the short story by Ted Chiang but is this as good as some have suggested or is it a worrying misfire before this auteur heads to a dystopic LA?
Alarm sets in as twelve unidentified large spacecraft appear at random positions across the earth, in an attempt to communicate with these beings and discover their intentions, the US military contacts talented language expert Louise (Amy Adams) and pairs her with theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), as these two minds lead a mission to discover these aliens’ intentions and in the process calm the brewing panic of the human race. As Bradford Young’s engrossing mist strewn cinematography and dark interiors recall Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (appropriately), this film in many ways reminds of the more subtle and human touch of Gareth Edwards’ Monsters as well as the aspiration of the films of Christopher Nolan. Arrival is not only worthy of the hype that surrounds it but it is an engaging, intelligent and impressive accomplishment.
Eschewing the memory of his work on the dreadful A Nightmare on Elm Street remake, Eric Heisserer’s screenplay for this feature is ambitious, thoughtful, deep and almost alarmingly timely. As the unpredictable and incredible narrative unfolds, this initial alien picture (which some have compared to Contact) comes to shock and twist your perceptions, with a narrative that never shakes the connection, while not holding back on being a thrilling piece of entertainment in its own right. Arrival is a proper Science Fiction film that rewards fans of intelligent storytelling which, in this case, tackles some felicitous themes of humanity segregated by fear and paranoia, closed mindedness of those in power, media driven moral panic and the worth of life and language. This is a film that makes advanced linguistics exciting for goodness sakes! And when its twists and turns do set in in the third act (which - similar to the last act of Interstellar - may be an acquired taste to some), you will more likely than not find yourself thirsty to re-visit Arrival at your earliest convenience, to dive back in and discover the deeper depths of this story.
This is aesthetically transportive, thanks in part to the aforementioned visuals and a score by Jóhann Jóhannsson which is chill inducing at points and meshes equally well with the poignant moments of the narrative, as well as the contemplative and mysterious vibes. Backing this audio visual impact and compelling plot is a cast of characters that are interesting and most importantly of all connective with the feelings of the audience. Amy Adams is absolutely excellent as Louise and if she does not earn herself an Oscar nomination at the very least for her leading performance, then frankly the Academy deserves to be vaporised by aliens. Her character may be the heart and soul of the film but she is well paired with a brilliant Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker is most welcome as Colonel GT Weber, a military man bound by duty but with a more open mind not often seen in this kind of character onscreen.
As the world undergoes some angry changes and segregations widen, a film like Arrival feels scarily appropriate, and leaves you feeling awed and a little humbled. We cannot say to you that you will love this movie, after all, we all like our Sci-Fi in different shapes, sizes and doses but we can safely say that a film this rich and rewarding deserves to labelled a modern day classic in the genre and for that matter cinema as a whole. This is a movie that benefits from patience, focus and understanding - much like its central visitors - and in one fell swoop, Villeneuve shows that he gets it. This writer for a while has questioned the need to return to Blade Runner but after seeing Arrival, consider his mind changed, Villeneuve can nail it. Works like this are why we love going to the movies. Captivating.
ARRIVAL / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: DENIS VILLENEUVE / SCREENPLAY: ERIC HEISSERER / STARRING: AMY ADAMS, JEREMY RENNER, FOREST WHITAKER, MICHAEL STUHLBARG / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Expected Rating: 9/10