Sunday, January 08, 2017


Year: 2016
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg

Plot: A renowned linguist is recruited by the military to make contact with aliens who have arrived on Earth.

Review: In the trailers, Arrival looks like a sci-fi movie featuring Aliens, but it's more than that. There are serious dramatic undertones present here, which elevates the film above viewers' expectations.

We begin with Louise Banks, a linguistics professor who witnesses a shell-like spacecraft land in Montana, and eleven other similar ships land across the world. The military promptly recruit her to help them make contact with the aliens and find out the purpose of their visit. Along for the ride is physicist Ian Donnelly, and slowly but surely, Louise establishes contact with the visitors, but interpreting their circular writing symbols prove to be difficult at first.

Denis Villeneuve, director of Prisoners and Sicario, changes direction towards something less dire with Arrival, though the look of the film is more bleak than you'd expect. While one would expect lots of wide shots in a film like this, Villeneuve and cameraman Bradford Young opt to make more close up shots and tight shots of interiors. Then these are combined with dimly lit rooms and little sunlight to give the film a rainy morning kind of feel, which works very well.

As mentioned, Arrival isn't just a sci-fi, it's a drama too. In between scenes we are shown Louise's memories of raising her daughter and dealing with her eventual death. How this connects with her communication with the aliens is only revealed later on, but it certainly adds more layers to the film, which also focuses on seeking the aliens' purpose as the rest of the world reacts negatively to their presence.

While the film boasts a trio of talented actors, this movie truly belongs to Amy Adams. As Louise, Adams deftly balances her confusion with the aliens' writings and the pressure brought upon her by the government who are impatiently waiting for results, and the weight of her daughter's demise. Jeremy Renner gets the lighter and more humorous character of Ian, and plays off Adams perfectly. Forest Whitaker plays the military colonel in charge, and it's nice to see one who doesn't consider the aliens as hostile like other similar films. 

I do admit that this film moves at a deliberate pace and might disappoint those expecting more suspense. Please note that Arrival is not that kind of film. But at the end of it all, the payoff is tremendous. It will undoubtedly make you think more about life, death and the future.

Aside from one narrated scene in the middle which I felt was slightly out of place (simply because they should have asked Adams to narrate instead), Arrival is a splendid sci-fi drama which hopefully will get fair representation at the coming Oscars. (8/10)

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