PLOT: After a series of alien ships land in twelve different locations on Earth, a linguist is recruited to discover the secrets of their language and why they have come.
REVIEW: The idea of the human race not being alone in the universe is one that has given filmmakers extraordinary worlds to explore. Yet sometimes, something truly gratifying and special transcends the average science fiction story. That is the case for the astonishing new feature ARRIVAL. The film, starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, is a fascinating look at how we may react to alien visitors. Written by Eric Heisserer and directed by Denis Villeneuve, there is a wonderful sense of humanity here. And while the film may at times feel perhaps too cerebral for some, it does so in a way that only brings the audience in deeper. There are many layers to this story of a linguist recruited to translate an alien life forms unusual language, so much so that I won’t reveal too much here.
Amy Adams is Dr. Louise Banks, a linguistics professor who is in mourning after losing her daughter to a rare illness. Everything changes for her however after reports that there are twelve unidentified objects landing in random places around the world. When a secretive Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) recruits Banks to attempt to translate the strange creature’s language, she becomes obsessed with the visitors. She is joined by a theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Renner), both brought on to find the key to why they have come. Once Banks and Donnelly arrive at one of the destinations, the team attempts to communicate with the strange creatures with absolutely zero knowledge of how they interact. As the world gives in to fear and panic, Louise and Ian attempt to discover the secrets behind the celestial visitors.
ARRIVAL is a unique science fiction experience. While comparisons can be made to CONTACT as well as the work of author Carl Sagan, it feels fresh and quite fitting for our time. The giant shell like ships that hover in several parts of the world are simple in design, but absolutely compelling to see on the big screen. When Banks, Donnelly and crew step inside the mysterious ship for the first time it is an astonishing visual, but not in ways you’d expect. The way they explain how gravity works inside the ship is so utterly simple that it feels absolutely realistic. And while the aliens and what is inside the craft is something more otherworldly, it is still handled in a very pragmatic way. This less-is-more approach makes for a intensely entertaining watch.
Much of Villeneuve’s work has been dark and cynical. From SICARIO to PRISONERS, there has been more than a hint of despair and horror. However, with ARRIVAL, he manages to infuse a more optimistic tone to his visual style and storytelling. That said, it is still a suspenseful and moving feature that carefully reveals the secrets behind the extra-terrestrial visitors. Jóhann Jóhannsson - who has worked with Villeneuve often - also returns to add a hauntingly effective score that helps build the strange phenomena that is occurring. The two work especially well together to create a movie going experience that you can fully immerse yourself in.
Amy Adams is finishing out 2016 with two solid performances. With this and NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, the actress is proving to be a dramatic force to be reckoned with. Here, she creates a woman who has suffered loss, and now embarks on a desperate quest to understand something completely foreign. It is beautiful and nuanced and deeply affecting. This strange world opens up to her and we see it through her eyes with wonder and uncertainty. Both Renner and Whitaker are also terrific. While neither of their characters have the personal conflict that Adams has, they add impressive support to their leading lady. But this is as much Adams film as it is further proof that Villeneuve is one of the most exciting directors working today.
ARRIVAL has stayed with me well after my first viewing, which most certainly won’t be my last. The questions it raises and the examination of who we are and how we react to possible conflict is very powerful. It also takes on a surprisingly emotional story that resonated with this viewer. Villeneuve has crafted a great science fiction feature that never insults the viewers intelligence, in fact, it challenges you in the best of ways. Amy Adams is superb and the script by Eric Heisserer is equally as brilliant. If you are looking for something that is both cerebral and awe-inspiring, you should do yourself a favor and see ARRIVAL before its secrets are revealed. This is likely to become a modern day sci-fi classic.
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