Movie Review: Arrival (Starring Adams, Whitaker and Renner)
Originality in an ‘alien’ movie is not easy to come by, but thankfully Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival breaks the mould.
A Winning Lead
When a dozen alien vessels land on Earth, U.S Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) tasks expert linguist Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) with translating communications with the extraterrestrial visitors. After a seemingly hostile turn in alien dialogue lurches world powers toward war, Banks must uncover their true intentions with humanity — whatever the personal cost.
Leading lady Adams shines the brightest with a strong performance as the emotionally damaged Banks, in a believable, engaging transition from out-of-her-depth academic to confident heroine. Whitaker also deserves credit as the gruff Colonel, whose no-nonsense push for answers drives Banks and Donnelly past their initial fear and astonishment.
It’s a welcome change to see Renner out of the weapon-toting mould, but unfortunately his ‘Donnelly’ character seems like a missed opportunity. While it doesn’t ruin the plot, Donnelly just doesn’t seem to enjoy nearly the same amount of development as protagonist, Banks. Donnelly’s motivations never meaningfully move past surface level, with his presence appearing more for the benefit of plot progression than the depth of his place inside it.
Tension Over Adrenalin
Luckily the positives in Arrival overwhelmingly outweigh any weaknesses, and this is clearly reflected in the film’s brilliantly suspenseful tone. This is not your average ‘alien Armageddon’ experience. Those seeking non-stop action and explosion-packed viewing should consider holding out for blockbuster season.
What Arrival mercifully lacks in Michael Bay pyrotechnics its intrigue more than makes up for. Villeneuve builds on the success of 2015’s Sicario and the criminally under-appreciated Prisoners, to once again demonstrate his flair for creating suspense.
The lead up to Banks and Donnelly’s ‘first contact’ is as tense as it is irresistible when the audience is finally introduced to the shadowy “heptapods”. The delicate interactions with inky alien symbols and the ever-looming silhouettes preserve that captivating sense of ‘the unknown’ so vital to good science fiction. It’s these simple scenes of communication that are the film’s real strengths.
Refreshingly Deep Sci-Fi
Despite its global, and even inter-galactic proportions, Arrival remains grounded in a very ‘human’ focus throughout its two-hour run time. Based on an award-winning short story by Ted Chiang, it effectively balances the tension by drawing emotive questions on loss, and the fundamentals of existence.
Language itself and the power of communication are recurring and powerful themes that particularly help separate Arrival from the science-fiction crowd. The underlined potential for catastrophe when communication and language break down acts as both an effective plot device, and political critique. Villeneuve even manages to challenge concepts of time in a Nolan-esque, mind-bending final act that proves equally satisfying and poignant.
‘Thought-provoking’ could ultimately be the best descriptor for a movie you’ll be discussing far longer than the walk to the car park.
Arrival is in cinemas from November 11, and is now available for pre-order on Blu-ray and Digital HD.