Arrival (2016 Paramount Pictures, Lava Bear Films, 21 Laps Entertainment, FilmNation Entertainment)
Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve.
Producers: Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder, David Linde.
Screenplay by Eric Heisserer. Story by Ted Chiang. Cinematography by Bradford Young. Edited by Joe Walker.
When mysterious spacecrafts touch down across the globe, an elite team – lead by expert linguist Louise Banks – is brought together to investigate. As mankind teeters on the verge of global war, Banks and the team race against time for answers – and to find them, she will take a chance that could threaten her life, and quite possibly humanity.
A linguist, a scientist and a canary walk into an alien spaceship…okay, that’s a silly joke about the movie. Seriously…
This is the way alien movies are supposed to be! Don’t go into Arrival expecting Independence Day-style action. Arrival is, thankfully, a more cerebral, more realistic approach to how people would react to an alien encounter. It’s more along the lines of Contact or Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Telling the story of the world’s reaction when 12 pod-like spacecrafts come to earth and park in random places around the globe, Arrival asks the realistic question of making contact. Yes, “What do they want?” is one of them. But the even better question: “How do we communicate with them?” Enter, Louise Banks and Ian Donnelly (a linguist and a scientist), played by Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. They’re brought in by the military to facilitate conversation, to learn the aliens’ purpose.
Fortunately, Arrival avoids many of the clichés of UFO movies and keeps everything within the realm of the plausible (for the most part). It’s part mystery, part personal journey, part action, and part sci-fi; all balanced perfectly by director Denis Villeneuve. Throughout Arrival, Villeneuve dropped breadcrumbs of the film’s plot without ever giving too much away.
The prevailing point of Arrival is not about talking to aliens. It’s about time—time as a nonlinear concept, running out of time, needing more time, spending time together and spending time apart.
While I enjoyed the acting in Arrival, I was truly blown away by the writing. It’s a complex story with a nonlinear narrative set against an alien encounter where everything from the spaceships to the aliens to the communication methods are anything but familiar. Nothing made sense because it wasn’t supposed to. And by the end, the answers to everything are deep, profound and kinda spooky.
Yes, I’m still processing this movie. Arrival is unlike any movie I’ve seen in a long time…there’s that word again!
***-1/2 stars (out of five)