Ladies and gentlemen, this is what we like to call a thinker.
“Arrival” stars Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, a professor who is the leading world expert on language studies. Those skills are nearly immediately put to the test in the film’s first act when multiple space crafts come into Earth’s atmosphere and land in random places across the planet.
In response, Banks and another scientist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), are brought in by the military to establish communication with the aliens. However, as the two researchers begin doing just that, tensions from world armies begins to increase on how to deal with the UFOs.
While the movie certainly has a ‘race against time aspect,’ it is in no way the main driving point that makes this a powerful entry into the sci-fi genre. Instead, much of the movie is built on scientific research, exploration, discovery and self reflection.
The film successfully accomplishes this by playing out as a sort of mystery, with the big question mark being how to interpret the messages from the aliens. Throughout the film, little clues are pieced together by the two protagonists. With every little discovery, it only makes the lead characters want to find out more, and it’s a feeling that transcends to the audience.
Deciphering the messages from the extra terrestrials isn’t the only mystery that plays out in “Arrival,” though, as the movie also gives an inside look at its main character through multiple flashbacks. Through these visions that Banks has, the audience is able to learn about her, but is also left to piece together what these flashbacks mean.
Both of the aforementioned points come to a head in the movie’s climax and it all fits together for a fascinating finish that will leave a person wanting to see the movie again for another look at what they saw. The sharp focus on scientific research made for an overall sense of wonder and this only increased as the movie went into its final act.
While the discovery of the alien language is far more crucial, though, the ‘race against time’ aspect was still important in the scheme of things. “Arrival” does show the protagonists operating under an ever-increasing level of pressure, pushing them to the brink in terms of exhaustion. This only builds as the world superpowers grow restless with the UFOs and feel the needs to point their cannons at the large ships.
Ultimately, this all combines for one of the better sci-fi films in a while, and that’s saying a lot. In the past few years we’ve seen an explosion of great sci-fi films such as “Edge of Tomorrow,” “Interstellar,” “Gravity,” “Ex Machina” and “The Martian.” It’s a great thing to say that this movie joins those ranks.
Part of the reason for this is the acting across the board. Amy Adams is especially great, portraying the sense of wonder and curiosity that her character has as a scientist. At the same time, though, Adams’ character is rather reserved in how she deals with those around her, mainly because of her visions, and the lead actress does a fantastic job convincingly portraying this on screen.
Renner, meanwhile, plays the more straightforward of the two researchers, but also brings to the screen a character who shares in his colleague’s fascination with the alien language.
Forest Whitaker, playing the part of a military officer, also delivered a fine performance. His character could’ve easily been a brash, generic military guy who wanted to shoot first and ask questions later. However, this isn’t the case. While Whitaker’s character has mounting pressure on him from the Pentagon to have forces prepared for an attack, he gives the benefit of the doubt to the researchers. There was an honesty with the character when he did this and Whitaker sold it well.
The movie is also technically well made, too. Director Denis Villeneuve, who helmed pictures such as the brilliant “Prisoners” from 2013 and the solid flick “Sicario” last year, once again led the way with “Arrival” and his skills were a very welcome treat. Villeneuve and his crew created a fantastic setting, produced beautiful camera-work, composed a beautiful score and included amazing sound.
Overall, there’s a lot of good things going for “Arrival,” but also a couple faults. First, not every emotional moment hit a person in the heart the way they were likely supposed to. Also, some of the questions this movie asked are left a little too unanswered.
However, these issues were rare for the most part and in the end, “Arrival” remains one of 2016’s best. While maybe not perfect in every single aspect, “Arrival” is still very well made. High 4 out of 5.