Reviewed by Mason Manuel
If you knew something that you ferociously loved would cause you immense heartbreak in the future, would you still want to love? This very human question is one of many at the heart of the sci-fi thriller Arrival. Despite introducing aliens, spaceships, and other futuristic elements, Arrival remains firmly rooted in reality. This boldly simplistic take on a normally larger than life genre paired with the best performance Amy Adams has given in her career makes Arrival an event worth witnessing.
Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is an accomplished, yet mild mannered linguist who is bothered by traumatic memories of past family. Her life is flipped upside down when she is approached by Colonel Weber (Forrest Whitaker) to gain her help in deciphering the language of aliens which have suddenly appeared in 12 spaceships across the globe. Paired with theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) Louise must solve the cryptography of the creatures before their presence initiates global catastrophe.
A 2 hour lecture in linguistics may not sound like a fun time but Adams delivers her material with such conviction that her enthusiasm is immediately contagious. The science of the subject is also conveyed in a way that makes it understandable without feeling insulting or holding any hands. By the end I felt like I had legitimately learned something both academic and personal. Communication and language are something that seems incredibly simple on the surface but Arrival peels back layer after layer of what is revealed to be a subject that is deeply complex.
Director Denis Villenvue redeems himself from the drag that was Sicario (I know I’m the minority on that opinion but you can argue with me here). The pacing feels just right throughout the film’s runtime, never letting up for a breath after a somewhat slow beginning. Villenvue makes full use of his cinematographer Bradford Young showing some stunning shots, particularly when showcasing the alien ships. The ships themselves are rather simplistic in design, like fat potato ships in the sky, but the way they are captured makes them feel mysterious and foreboding without them moving an inch. Helping this innate sense of dread is the unique haunting score by Johan Johannsson. Though fairly simple during grounded moments in the film, time spent in and around the alien ships are coupled with frightening high strings clashing against one another in a beautiful disaster sort of melody. It all comes together in a beautiful smorgasbord of excellent film that makes it a true privilege to behold.
Cast chemistry works well despite being severely limited. Jeremy Renner adds a well needed comedic take on the proceedings while Louse is freaking out as more supernatural things begin to occur the more she studies the new beings. Together they play off each other as Adams’ character moves from brushing him off to grudging acceptance. I was disappointed to see that Forrest Whitaker’s character was used rather minimally, and only to bark orders rather than contribute anything really meaningful. It is a small complaint though in a sea of otherwise fantastica character development and evolution (sometimes literally).
Arrival did what I thought could never be done; it made me appreciate Amy Adams as an actor. Her ability to capture this dramatic out of this world material and pull the most human elements out of it speaks volumes about her ability as an actress. Meshed with a fantastic director and story and you have one hell of a film. RDR gives Arrival a 9 out of 10.