Review - 'Arrival'
Denis Villeneuve's Arrival, which is based off of the short story "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang, is a film that is going to be talked about for a very long time because it tells a story that by nature inspires conversation. Upon getting out of the theater I just wanted to stand around with a group of friends and discuss my interpretations of what I had seen. Despite my inability to completely give in to some of its more adventurous ideas; Arrival is an immensely powerful science fiction film that has a some very honorable messages to convey.
Arrival begins with the world reacting to twelve space crafts landing in various corners of the earth. In the United States, Doctor Louise Banks, an adept linguist, is brought in to hopefully interpret the intentions of these otherworldly beings.
Denis Villeneuve has really been making a name for himself lately. I've been a fan of his past three films; Prisoners, Enemy and Sicario, all of which have all released in very short spans of time between one another. I honestly don't know how the man has time to make all of these films and maintain the level of quality that he does, but more power to him. Arrival is no exception to Villeneuve's hot streak, in fact, it might be my favorite film of his thus far.
While Arrival takes some cues from both Christopher Nolan's filmography and Alex Garland's Ex Machina, it is still a wholly unique science fiction experience that brings ideas to the table that haven't really been touched on. The film depicts an alien encounter in a completely different light and while the movie initially comes off as bleak; upon closer examination it is actually undeniably optimistic in its outlook.
Arrival has two distinct messages and conveys each of them successfully. Communication is one of the main themes of the film and while aliens are at the center of everyone's concerns, the movie is actually more interested in being a criticism of humanity's ability or inability to get along with one another. I loved how the film challenged me to think in a different way about outsiders. There's a human tendency to view everything that is unfamiliar as a potential threat to our safety and to shoot first and ask questions later. Arrival teaches us that not everything in this universe has designs for our destruction and that we would know that too if we only took a moment to listen and understand one another.
The second message in this film, to me, was even more powerful. I won't divulge too much of it because it might run the risk of spoiling portions of the film. I'll just say that Arrival tackles the saying: "It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all", and it does so in such a way that I haven't seen before. Beautiful stuff.
Often times films that are highly ambitious can trip up on themselves, not quite able to juggle their many ideas all at once, and while Arrival handles all of its material and multiple messages with grace, it still isn't quite the exception to that rule. There are certain plot revelations in Arrival that I felt reached a little too far and could have been reined in a bit without losing any of the film's majesty. The language in which the aliens communicate is very interesting, but there are aspects of said language that just didn't make sense to me in the end. At one point the film abruptly shotguns a ton of expository information at the audience and gives you no time to process it to see if it actually makes any sense or not. That said, all of this also serves as a positive element because it inspires endless constructive conversation with others who might have viewed it in a different way. I would bet huge amounts of money on people writing long in-depth conversation pieces about this film in the near future, sort of like what we got in the wake of Interstellar's release. Arrival also has an idea that is very similar to Interstellar's "It's about love" moment, but it's not quite to the degree of implausibility exemplified in Nolan's film.
It takes great actors to sell all of these huge ideas in a believable way, and Villeneuve found an absolute winner in the form of Amy Adams. Adams is phenomenal in this film. She displays a vast array of emotions and you just completely believe in her character. I also enjoyed Jeremy Renner's performance as a sidekick of sorts, he didn't have too much to do but he was an likable presence throughout the film. Forest Whitaker is good as Colonel Weber, though he also isn't given as much to work with. This is clearly all Amy Adams' show, and I feel like this fully establishes her as one of the most reliable leading women.
Despite everything else Arrival has going for it, it hits the biggest home run in the cinematography department. Of course, I didn't expect anything less from Villeneuve who really values wide sweeping landscape shots that fully immerse you in the setting. Keep your eyes on Bradford Young, who was brought in to help capture these visually arresting scenes of various parts of the world inhabited by these dark looming spacecrafts. Apart from looking absolutely beautiful; Arrival also has a very memorable minimalist score by Johann Johannsson that sounds something like Radiohead's Kid-A mixed with the War of the Worlds tripod foghorns.
Arrival is a stunning science fiction drama with some of the best acting and cinematography of the year. The film adeptly tackles themes like love, life and communication in new and insightful ways. Despite having a few moments that seem wildly implausible; Arrival is still one of the best films of the year and likely a conversation piece for the ages.