Amy Adams delivers a powerhouse performance in tale of alien visitation.
Arrival screened at Fantastic Fest and hits screens worldwide in early November.
Arrival is an alien invasion movie for grown-ups; one that’s lacking in action, explosions and all-out war, but heavy on tension, drama, and raw emotion. It’s serious sci-fi that tackles weighty subjects in a way that’s wholly gripping, hugely entertaining, and grounded by a powerhouse performance from Amy Adams.
She plays Louise Banks, a linguistics expert who is teaching class when the aliens arrive. They appear in 12 ships, hovering over 12 locations, seemingly picked at random. Every 18 hours a door opens at the base of each craft, allowing us humans in. Trouble is, once inside, we can’t understand their whale-like rumbles.
Banks has previously assisted the military in translating a video of insurgents, and so Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) asks her for help, playing a tape of the alien noises in the hope that Banks can somehow decipher them.
But she needs to see the aliens for herself, so Weber reluctantly sends her into the ship, alongside theoretical physicist Dr Ian Connolly (Jeremy Renner) so they can take both a linguistic and scientific approach to the task, she believing language to be the cornerstone of civilization, he smirking at such an opinion.
The build-up to their first close encounter are some of the best scenes in the film, director Denis Villeneuve ratcheting up the tension as we come ever closer to laying eyes on the visitors, inside their egg-like ship, hovering over a field in Montana.
And they don’t disappoint, though while we won’t spoil the reveal here, the fact that they are called ‘heptapods’ from here-on-in might give you some clue as to their appearance.
Banks and Connolly are charged with the task of deciphering their ingenious language, then figuring out how to communicate back, and finally getting an answer to the most important question of all – “why are you here?”
It’s a race against time, with looting and violence breaking out on the streets and a state-of-emergency being declared, pressure mounting to simply blast the visitors into oblivion, and one mistake potentially spelling the end for the human race.
And the task is complicated by the fact that other countries are having their own interactions with the aliens, and not always willing to share their findings; tensions escalating as world leaders refuse to collaborate with their enemies, and instead use the arrival to score political points and strengthen their position at home.
Which makes it an incredibly timely tale, Eric Heisserer’s adaptation of Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life retaining the book’s lofty philosophical themes, but injecting the kind of geo-political conflict that you see every night on the news.
But in spite of the fact that this is a big story told on a grand scale, it’s also an incredibly intimate one, revolving around Banks, her brilliant mind, and the way in which her past, present and future are somehow connected to the heptapods.
The task takes its toll on Banks mentally, but Adams fills the character with such strength, depth and humanity that you’re left in little doubt that if anyone can save the planet, it’s her.
Arrival does kind of skate over the specifics of exactly how she finally cracks the code, in spite of the fact that Banks is reduced to explaining it to her team – and therefore the audience – via chalk on a blackboard. But it feels like we are being told rather than shown; the explanation all a little fuzzy.
But the final revelation is a powerful one that turns an engrossing sci-fi feature into something quite profound, the film delivering a message that’s both incredibly sad, and yet somehow filled with hope.
All of which means that Denis Villeneuve has done it again, the Canadian director’s English-language output – from Prisoners to Enemy to Sicario – getting better and better and boding well for his next film, that long-gestating Blade Runner sequel.
But Arrival is a brilliant film because it’s very much the sum of its parts, Heisserer’s script both intelligent and thought-provoking, cinematographer Bradford Young lending the visitation a cold, stark sheen that fills the film with foreboding, and Johann Johannson’s score incredibly moving when the narrative hits that emotional final stretch.
Published at Mon, 26 Sep 2016 16:23:00 +0000