Arrival (2016)

Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

While this review may be slightly behind the curve, with almost one month having passed since the initial release of Arrival, I feel that so far, this film has not received the kind of viewership it deserves. Considering the frankly remarkable filmography of its director, Denis Villeneuve, sporting critical and commercial successes such as Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, and with him having recently been placed at the helm of the 2017 Blade Runner reboot, I’m honestly shocked at how small a splash Arrival has caused. However, when the films main competition was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, or as it’s also known ‘Hey, remember Harry Potter?’ it’s understandable how such an excellent piece of cinema might be crushed at the box office.

Arrival is another member of the ever popular “Alien Invasion” sub-genre of science fiction, but dispenses with the classic tropes of the genre, such as lasers, explosions and the destruction of widely recognisable landmarks. Instead, our story focuses more closely on Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguistics professor leading a somewhat solitary existence. However, after twelve alien vessels touch down at various sites across the globe, she is contracted by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to work alongside Physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) in order to make contact with the aliens and discern their reasons for visiting earth. This is all taking place against a background of increasingly strained political and international relationships, with the government convinced that every attempt at communication could be giving the aliens more information with which to launch an effective invasion, while various generals of China’s and Russia’s militaries exhibit an increasing desire to abandon diplomacy and launch a pre-emptive strike to destroy the ships.

For some people the idea of sitting through two hours of morally upstanding intellectuals trying to solve a linguistics puzzle before various angry, impatient men with guns doom the entire human race, may sound almost insufferable. However, I can guarantee that director Denis Villeneuve makes the process of learning and unravelling the alien’s language engaging and exciting at every step. But, even if that fails to capture you, the excellent performances and interpersonal struggles of the characters will keep you invested. Adams is exceptional, portraying her character as exhausted and world weary, battered by the both the physical strain of her work and her constant flashbacks to the child she’d lost. Renner also delivers his usual witty stoicism, occasionally adding some welcome optimistic relief to the movies very grim and moody tone. Even the “villains” by the films conclusion are not left as one dimensional caricatures, as the screenplay avoids dealing in moral simplicities and  is nuanced enough to paint each individual in various subtle shades of grey. Despite all this, the movie does have some pacing issues, dragging especially in its first half hour before we even get to see any aliens, and has massive narrative conceit in the form of a twist that, depending on how well you receive it, will make or break the film for you.

If you personally are prefer a more action heavy approach to sci-fi, this film may not be to your liking, but I would still encourage anyone to give it a try. However, if you like your science fiction brainy, moody and bursting at the seams with philosophy interwoven with human drama, I’d recommend Arrival in a heartbeat, and if even if you can’t find it showing near you, I’d encourage you to keep an eye out for the home release, as this film is not to be missed.