Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker
The annual November sci-fi movie has become a tradition over the last few years, with the likes of The Martian, Interstellar and now Arrival. Not only is Arrival a breath of fresh air after a long summer blockbuster season and a serious candidate for the Academy Awards Best Picture, it also accomplishes what the best of sci-fi always does: uses complex ideas to tell a poignant human story.
When 12 alien spaceships land around the world, Louise Banks (Adams) is called upon to lead an elite team of investigators, including physicist Ian Donnelly (Renner) and Colonel Weber (Whitaker). They race against time to establish communication with the aliens so they can figure out where they came from, how they got here and, most importantly, what do they want with humanity.
Any extra information about the plot would be a major disservice as this film is best viewed with as little prior knowledge as possible, but it is good to manage expectations prior to seeing the film. Do not go in expecting giant military vs. alien battles à la Independence Day. The film is slow. This is not to say that Arrival is boring, on the contrary, it is quite captivating. If you go in with these expectations, Arrival will grab you and not let you go.
There are a lot of big themes and ideas explored in Arrival, from the journey vs the destination to humanity's reaction to the unknown, but easily one of the best is the nature of communication. The film does an incredible job of showing the many subtle nuances of our everyday communication that we take for granted. Some of the best scenes are of the team standing in front of a whiteboard going over how many ways a simple sentence could be misunderstood. There are many heady themes to chew on.
The cerebral aspects to Arrival are also accompanied by heartfelt human emotions. This is mostly through the outstanding performance of Amy Adams. She is definitely the star and emotional tether of this movie. Renner and Whitaker are also great in their roles but every other character is in the periphery compared to Adams’ Louise. Throughout the entire film Adams is able to draw you in and make you care deeply about her character and her consequential decisions.
Bringing all of these magnificent elements together is Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, a rising star in Hollywood. His choices of smooth camera movement, sparing use of vibrant colours and unnerving alien/spaceship designs give the film a strange surreal feeling. He is also aided by some breathtaking cinematography – the first scene where you see the spaceship is stunning – and a very emotional score.
So long as you go in with the correct expectations, it is an amazing experience. It's the rare film that combines complex cerebral ideas with powerful human emotion and will stay with you long after you have left the theatre.