At first glance, Arrival looks like another trip into old territory, but it becomes quickly apparent that Adams and co. have boldly gone where no one has gone before.
If you’d seen the trailer, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was another alien invasion film trying to ride the recent wave of sci-fi successes.
However, Denis Villeneuve quickly dispels any cynical thoughts with Brad Young’s stunning cinematography and an effective score by Johann Johannsson.
Villeneuve has garnered a reputation for subverting typical expectations within the genre of films he creates. None more so than the crime thriller Sicario and kidnap drama Prisoners. Here is a man who knows how to shake up the formula.
With his latest effort, he presents a story of first contact with a mysterious alien species. The intentions of this species are not clear, as their 12 ships arrive around the world with little fan fair and seem to do very little but sit there acting all monolith-from-2001.
Enter Amy Adams’ Dr Louise Banks, a world leading linguist who is tasked with deciphering what in the world these guys could want. In this task, she is aided by theoretical physicist Dr Ian Donnelly played by everyone’s favourite sidekick hero Jeremy Renner. They must try and communicate with the visitors before the powers that be take military action.
In Arrival, Villeneuve once again demonstrates his willingness to go against the grain, eschewing typically sensationalist imagery for understated and simple design.
This allows the viewer to really take in the humanity of the situations which they are shown. As an audience member, it is really felt how much of an effect initial contact with an alien species would have on a person’s body and mind.
This is made all the more clear by the real physical differences between the ‘heptopods’ and the humans. The tension in the little moments of communication somehow manage to build masses of tension.
This is really Adams’ vehicle here; her performance is the driving force behind the success of the movie and she and Renner play off each other to great effect.
It has to be noted however that in a sci-fi film about alien contact, the most unrealistic element is that in the world exists a leading theoretical physicist with the looks and buffed up body of an Avenger.
Still, we digress.
Arrival really is an intelligently made film that will have you discussing the inner workings of the science and indeed the philosophies behind it for days afterwards.
It is also hard to miss the message which Villeneuve and his team are trying to get out to the world. This is quite plain to see without being preachy, a fault that many social commentary sci-fis tend to fall foul of (we’re looking at you Interstellar).
Where the film does fall down however, is the third act. This feels like it is unable to quite live up to the stakes which it set itself in the first two acts. It feels somewhat messy and this detracts from the clarity that came before.
Despite this, Arrival is a welcome addition to the sci-fi genre, and one that feels refreshingly meditative…
Seriously though? Jeremy Renner as a theoretical physicist?