From the thrilling director of “Prisoners” and “Sicario,” Denis Villeneuve, comes the new science-fiction drama “Arrival.” After 12 massive UFO’s arrive on Earth with no warning, pattern or context, Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is recruited by the military to use her linguistic talents to help decipher why the aliens have come to earth. Along with Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Dr. Banks begins to learn the language of the invaders in order to ask one simple question: “What is your purpose on earth?”
Based on “Story of Your Life,” a short story by Ted Chiang, “Arrival” is a fresh take on the classic alien invasion film. We’ve come a long way from little green men or giant metal robots threatening to destroy all humans. This dark and gritty take on a planet-wide close encounter adds a fresh sense of drama and mystery to an otherwise familiar genre.
The movie kicks off with a very emotional start, left to be forgotten once the action begins. Many aspects of that scene remain a mystery to the viewer, which won’t be satisfied until the end of the movie. The non-linear story telling woven throughout the movie took time to absorb. At first, it is unclear if the edit was unintentional or Villeneuve’s artistic vision, but as the plot unfolds it all fits together. Not since Christopher Nolan’s “Memento” had I seen a film use non-linear progression to its success, due to the fact that the technique can easily alienate (pun intended) an audience that isn’t prepared to follow along.
Amy Adams’ performance as Dr. Blake is also a slow burn. Following the heart-wrenching opening scene, the character’s motivation is unclear and somewhat off-putting. As her arc intensifies, Dr. Blake’s frustrations and obsessions are more understandable. This is to no fault of Adams, rather the way the story develops for her character.
That being said, the true heart of this movie rests in Renner’s performance as Ian Donnelly. The sarcastic, witty scientist goes along with the journey the way any experienced sci-fi fan would. He is excited by the rules of the alien’s spaceship and “science” and openly accepts these impossible moments just as we do. Forrest Whitaker’s Colonel Weber was a by-the-numbers angry, but understanding, military officer. His character had moments of shine here and there, but presented an otherwise passable performance from an Academy Award winner.
On the technical side, the film is absolutely gorgeous. Bradford Young’s cinematography was, at times, literally breath-taking. From the scale of the space craft floating among the clouds in the Montana mountains to the composition of Dr. Blake’s dim lake-side home, every shot was carefully and beautifully designed. Johann Johannsson’s chilling score cemented the film amid other eerie sci-fi classics. The goose-bump inducing music is much of what makes the tension in the film successful.
Overall, “Arrival” is thrilling and fresh addition to the realm of sci-fi drama. Its real world consequences mixed with other-worldly heart makes for a must-see theater experience.