Reviewed : Arrival (2016, Denis Villeneuve)

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With a focus on intelligent storytelling, visceral imagery and brilliant acting “Arrival” is perhaps the best film of 2016. A science fiction movie that is interested in the human component of the narrative – instead of the usual focus on eradication and explosions – “Arrival” is first and foremost a character study, set within a filmic landscape that happens to coexist with Extra-Terrestrial Life. By holding the focus on the principle characters – each likeable, engaging and highly watchable – director Denis Villeneuve has managed to overturn Hollywood’s stereotypical genre troupes in an effective and rewarding manner.

When twelve mysterious extra-terrestrial spacecraft, AKA “shells”, land on earth at various points, the authorities begin to communicate with the terrestrial beings inside. Desperate to understand the purpose of there coming, the United States Military – under the lead of Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) – recruits acclaimed linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to make contact and learn their language. With the whole world on high alert, to the proposed threat these aliens could bring, Louise and her team begin to understand the advanced language of the studied race. Desperate to proof their apparent innocence, a relationship begins to fester between the linguists and those that they are examining, with repercussions that can define the human race of the future.

At its core, “Arrival” is most definitely an Amy Adams vehicle, with her linguist character, Dr. Louise Banks carrying the entirety of the films plot. With such an informative – both in context to the film narrative, and audience understanding – character serving as the audience eyes throughout its many twists and turns – Adams has to deliver the humanity within her performance for the film to work. In perhaps her best film role too date, she not only completes this important element to the film, but surpasses all expectation in what is easily the best character performance of the year so far. Award buzz will no doubt come for this film, and Adams deserves every piece of acclaim that she is sure to receive.

Being an Amy Adams show comes at the cost of the two main supporting characters, who become backgrounded in proceedings. Jeremy Renner, as theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly, is perhaps the most hard done by Adams’ consistent focus, with his character serving little purpose other than aiding the narrative cues derived from the linguistic nature of language understanding. Aside a couple of remarks, his scientific background is never explored, as if the filmmakers felt having a scientist is just the norm in the film’s genre. Although also backgrounded to a degree, Forest Whittaker serves another purpose within the narrative. As the brash inpatient colonel, his role is to outline the questions which the screenplay feels audiences will want to know. For instance, Why did this character do this? and What does this mean? As such his role is less in aid of the plot progression, but instead nullifies the constant need to create exposition dumps which would serve as aids to understanding the complex nature of the narrative.

One of the most impressive elements of this film, is its impeccible  score. Blending industrial sounds with soft melodies, composer Johann Johannsson blurs the sounds into something that adds multiple layers to the content onscreen. This blurring really promotes the alien existence while also heightening the threat and unknown quality of the intruders. It is in this sense that the score really sets about complimenting the films quality, while adding to the emotional cues of the narrative.

With its focus on language, “Arrival” could well be seen as a slow paced educational romp within a sci-fi setting. However, this is not the case. With a brilliant pacing, excellent screen writing and an engrossing roster of characters, the film becomes one of the most enjoyable productions to have come out in recent years. Cemented by its lead actresses performance and some of the most beautifully composed shots – with camera angles creating otherworldly illusions – the film is one of the best examples within this genre.

A thinking persons “Star Wars” , but one that is handled with such care throughout. This means that “Arrival” manages to embody the human study it so intriguingly inter-places throughout the narrative. A striking score helps capsulate the imagination of the director, bringing the larger than life narrative to further within the audience engrossment. Yes the aliens are plain, but when all else is removed the films themes and performances linger long after the films filmic alternative close. 

Plot – 4

Acting – 5

Direction – 4

Special Effects – 3

Retrospect – 4

Overall – 4

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