Director: Denis Villeneuve.
Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma.
Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner talk to some strange visitors in Arrival.
HOW many times has the Earth been visited/invaded by aliens?
The answer is “so many we’ve lost count”, and for that reason alone you could be forgiven for switching off at the thought of another cinematic close encounter.
But don’t. Because if you do, you’ll miss not only one of the best films of the year but also one of the best sci-fi films of the decade so far.
Based on Ted Chiang’s short story Story Of Your Life, Arrival explores the ... uh ... arrival of 12 interstellar spaceships (referred to as “shells”) at 12 seemingly random locations around the world.
At the Montana landing, linguist Louise Banks (Adams) and mathematician/physicist Ian Donnelly (Renner) are called in to help answer some massive questions, in particular “why are they here?” and “what do they want?”.
Able to enter the shell for short bursts every 18 hours, Banks and Donnelly start to piece together the aliens’ language while the rest of the world nervously teeters on the brink of war.
Alien visitations can go any number of ways in the movies, but Arrival is a spiritual successor to Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. These otherworldly events are entirely viewed from the perspective of Banks, who develops a Richard Dreyfuss-like connection with the extra-terrestrials as she attempts to crack their language, allowing the film to have a deeply personal feel amid the decidedly global ramifications of 12 spaceships landing across the planet. This approach eschews large-scale spectacle for a more considered and cerebral tack, but keeps an eye on both the macro and micro storytelling at all times.
It’s Banks’ story that makes this so much more than your average alien invasion film. Adams gives yet another top-shelf performance as the linguist struggling to comprehend an insane puzzle and decode it before the entire world (and she) goes mad.
There are some big ideas at play here. Remember all that crap at the end of Interstellar where the film dove through a blackhole and tried to get clever but failed horribly? This does something similar but actually pulls it off and then some (and without the $200 million budget).
The only downside is it’s slow. Not just languidly paced, but occasionally drawn out – the two hours feels like two-and-a-half. It’s methodical in its approach, as Villeneuve always is (see also Prisoners, Incendies and Sicario) but the film will ride a fine line between tension and frustration for those with short attention spans.
But it’s worth it for a final act that will leave you thinking and weighing up the philosophical implications of what seems to be a tiny facet of the film yet proves to be a mind-blowing centrepoint. There are so many fascinating things about Arrival that will keep you turning it over in your head and the more you think about it, the more impressed you’ll be.