Arrival, the recent science fiction film from director Dennis Villeneuve starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker, is the kind of film that you keep thinking about long after the credits have rolled. It’s a film about humanity’s first contact with extra terrestrial aliens, but it’s not what we’re used to getting from Hollywood. Arrival is real science fiction; it casts aside the typical first contact narrative rife with combat and super lasers and, instead, intelligently explores and questions popular concepts of technology, language, biology and even time itself. It is truly a breath of fresh air in the genre. Arrival does everything differently than we’ve come to expect, but it’s all for the sake of the story — not for the sake of being different.
Villeneuve and writer Eric Heisserer weave an intricate and imaginative story told from the perspective of a linguist trying to communicate with a non-human, sentient species, rather than that of a soldier, scientist, or a politician. There are plenty of soldiers and scientists in the film, and lots of politics to boot, but they aren’t there to drive the story, only to add flavor and context. Adams, who plays the aforementioned linguist, and Renner, playing a physicist, are who drive the story through expertly crafted and acted dialog and their excellent on-screen chemistry. They’re both superb in their respective roles, but it’s Amy Adams who truly shines, delivering an emotional and evocative performance. In a big budget movie about aliens, it’s Adams’ humble linguist who really connects with the audience as she learns as much about what it means to be human as she does about strange visitors from another world.
In terms of plot, Arrival will make perfect sense to you, perhaps even feel a bit predictable, right until the point at which it reveals its hand and makes you question everything you just saw. The importance of language to the narrative — even how language relates to time — cannot be understated. The effort to understand the aliens’ true purpose in visiting Earth and how the various nations of the world react to their arrival makes for one of the most thought provoking and enjoyable films of the year.
Technically speaking, Arrival does just about everything right. The score and foley work are amazing, and the direction, cinematography, and acting are all top-notch. The film provides wonderful visuals and effects, but what stands out the most to me is how well it’s edited. There is no filler. Everything you see and hear needs to be there. Every scene matters and every line carries weight.
If you’re a fan of science fiction, Arrival is a must-see film. In the sci-fi genre, movies like this are rare. Good ones are rarer still! Fans of the genre will not be disappointed. Still, Arrival stands on its own as an excellent film regardless of genre. The characters are strong and well-developed, and their relationships are interesting and make sense, which should be appealing to everyone who likes good stories. Overall, Arrival is a film with a familiar setup that will definitely surprise you before it ends.