With a resurgence of what can only be called grounded sci-fi films in recent years like ‘The Martian’ and ‘Interstellar’ Arrival has out done all of its recent predecessors with its incredibly human approach to a film about aliens.
Director Denis Villeneuve has moved away from crime thrillers like his previous releases ‘Sicario’ and ‘Prisoners’ and brought us a beautiful think piece that puts humanity at the forefront this time. Amy Adam’s takes centre stage as Dr. Louise Banks, a renowned linguist who is recruited by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) after the arrival of 12 alien vessels across the planet. Together with theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly played by Jeremy Renner, Louise must enter the vessel which opens every 18 hours and attempt to communicate with the visitors and answer the question this film’s tagline poses “Why are they here?”
Arrival does take cues from past films that have touched on the same topic but is a lot more than a film about aliens and what would happen if they showed up one day. Villeneuve really focused on the humanity of the story both on large and small scales. On a smaller scale we are almost instantly attached to our protagonist, Dr. Banks, after a gut wrenching opening scene detailing both Bank’s fondest memories of her young daughter and the painful build up to losing her to cancer. There’s a distinct sadness to her character but also an unmatched intelligence and an air of understanding behind Banks that would make you trust her to be the one to make first contact with the strange beings.
Amy Adams’ performance is no less than stellar as she so successfully portrays Banks allowing us to embrace her realness, flaws and her sense of purpose. There is also some very nice chemistry between Adams and Renner who also did a great job with his performance as the extremely likeable albeit slightly less developed physicist.
Arrival’s approach to language is an interesting one. The film has a lot to offer when it comes to learning about structure and presentation especially in all the scenes in which Banks is actually talking to the aliens which makes for some very interesting viewing. A sense of tension is also built throughout the film brought on by the frustrations of the inability of the humans and aliens to understand one another. This frustration is also matched in the interpretation of how people, or better yet nations, communicate. There is a nice idea put forward early in the film that humanity would all work together to figure the situation out but this is very much short lived which is probably a very realistic outcome looking at our track record in every other situation of problem resolution. That being said the conflict keeps you invested and there are some oddly heartfelt moments of empathy between the human characters and their alien counterparts affectionately nicknamed Abbott and Costello.
The film on a technical level looks fantastic. There is heavy use of CGI but the design of the aliens and their ships is very basic and minimalist which allows this kind of spectacle to only add to the quality of the film and not be the catalyst of the story. There’s also some clever zero gravity scenes which are as fun to watch as those famous scenes in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Credit really does have to be given to Villeneuve’s directing though. His approach to the genre was very different than someone like Christopher Nolan (who don’t get me wrong is an incredible director) and I must admit it was very refreshing to watch. It was nice to not be bogged down with masses of forced logic and theories that are so often wedged into films of this genre to help with our immersion and suspension of disbelief. In this case our characters are so real there’s no real need for these other elements. Props must also be given to his treatment of the film’s source material and screen play. Arrival is based on the short story “Story of your life” and was written for the screen by Eric Heisserer. However Heisserer has not exactly been praised for his writing in the past as his other works include the remakes of both “The Thing” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street”. This is why I think Villeneuve is due so much recognition because I find it hard to believe any other director would have been able to make this film look as gorgeous as it does while evoking so much emotion from the audience and posing some very profound questions.
At its very core, Arrival is a provocative but just plain enjoyable film with so much to offer that by the end it’ll be hard to for you to leave the theatre without feeling something.
Arrival is in cinemas from 10th November 2016.