- Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks
- Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly
- Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber
A sublime science fiction drama with thematic heft and a welcome lack of outrageousness, Arrival stands as an intelligent film that poses many interesting questions for the viewer and grips with airs of mystery and fine performances.
Arrival begins with twelve strange spacecrafts landing at various places around the globe. No one is sure of why these objects have come to Earth and many questions lie on people’s lips regarding intentions of those aboard, particularly as they issue a seemingly indecipherable message. Brilliant linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks is called up by the American government to aid in discovery of what the beings in the crafts want. Brought along by Colonel Weber and physicist Ian Donnelly, she travels to Montana where one of the ships is levitating. Every eighteen hours, the doorway to these pods open and under the direction of Weber, the team of Louise, Ian and other scientists enters the unknown in hopes of coming across answers. It is here that Louise encounters the alien beings, known as heptapods. At first, the attempts to establish contact with them are futile, but Louise, who is already carrying emotional baggage from the death of her daughter, is not about to give up that easily. Through pain-staking methods and committed diligence to the massive job at hand, Louise slowly but surely begins to form something of a bond with the heptapods and gradually through her patient drive, begins to form an idea of what they could be saying. Yet time is not on her side as foreign powers grow anxious about events and chaos takes hold. Many countries consider taking aggressive action against something they don’t understand and it is up to Banks and Donnelly to crack the language and code before mankind heads towards almost certain destruction by its own hand.
Denis Villeneuve masterfully constructs this mysterious puzzle of a film that probes the mind and moves the heart with excellent degrees of adroitness. The fluidity of his vision and how he chooses to shoot scenes is in full view, particularly in the expansive tracking shots of the spacecrafts and the claustrophobic feeling of the heptapods residing place, which is situated behind a fog enshrouded glass chamber. What is very admirable and most interesting about Arrival at least in my eyes, is the slow burning effect it emits. Villeneuve is clearly not in a rush to tell this story, choosing to slowly reveal things and keep the mystery going for us to unearth. And there are a few well-timed surprises to be discovered in Arrival, which bring out the puzzle box aspects of a jigsaw slowly assembling to create a clear picture. It is also very refreshing that for a movie that contains aliens coming to Earth, this is far from a generic science fiction film with explosive action and ridiculous ideas. As much as the story has global implications as to what the aliens want, it is also the personal story of Louise and the journey she embarks on to understand them. Already having significant personal troubles and sadness in her life, Louise is a character who becomes our entry point to the story and who it is hard not to be emotionally invested with. The timely message of how communication is key to understanding and one shouldn’t rush into the unexpected blindly is heard loud and clear in Arrival. This helps in bringing out yet another layer of exceptional food for thought for the audience to chew over. A subdued lighting scheme causes the movie to have a very mysterious impact as it clearly balances darkness with the occasional flash of light, especially in the case of the heptapods. And talking of those creatures, the effects used to craft them are breathtaking at shaping these strange beings into things of majestic and unusual beauty. Arrival’s soundscape is marvellously constructed, from the sound of the aliens that is difficult to decipher to the melancholy and evocative score of the film, the aural parts of this movie are on a very amazing level.
Front and centre of Arrival and one of its strongest parts is the utterly beautiful and affecting performance from Amy Adams. The dedicated Louise is our entry point to the story and we are put on the same emotional level as her; everything is mainly seen from her point of view and with Adams subtly playing the role to perfection, we feel what she feels. We experience her awe at first seeing the creatures and their way of communication(which resembles symbols formed by an inky substance), we feel her pain of the memories of her deceased daughter and we worry for her as she becomes overworked and determined to uncover the key to everything. It’s a performance of all-encompassing natural emotion that is largely contained and composed, yet always there for us to glimpse. It is quite simply a stunning piece of work from Amy Adams, who is having an excellent year with her other turn in Nocturnal Animals getting notice. Expect a few award notices for her vulnerable and soulful portrayal here. Ably supporting her is Jeremy Renner, who is affable, charismatic and amusingly geeky as the physicist helping Louise with deciphering the message. He works nicely alongside Adams, with the two establishing a good working chemistry of intellect and friendship. The always watchable and sincere Forest Whitaker gives off the definite feeling of authority here as the Colonel in charge of Louise’s mission, although through his eyes you can tell that he is worried about the possibilities of what may happen if contact and motives aren’t established.
Handsomely directed with dexterity by Denis Villeneuve, resonant on both an emotional and intellectual level and acted with soul, Arrival is one science fiction film that gets you to think while at the same time absorbing you with its thought-provoking story and ideas. If you want to see a movie this year that has a brain and a deep heart, make that movie be Arrival as you will be bowled over by what it has to offer.