Arrival is the latest film by director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, 2015). Linguist Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is contacted and hired by the US forces when 12 spacecrafts appear in different locations around the world. Dr Louise and second recruitee Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) set out on a mission to find a way of communicating with the heptapods that inhabit the spacecraft that touched down somewhere in Montana. What is their purpose on Earth? The octopus-like aliens are sticking to their spacecraft and are not showing any sign of hostility. Trying to understand them might be the only way of explaining their presence on Earth.
It has some of the elements of a typical alien invasion movie, of which there are many – spacecrafts, a general public feeling of unease and the involvement of the military – yet Arrival manages to come across as a completely original take on the genre. Most cases of alien films, present the extraterrestrials as an invading species, as the badies trying to end the existence of the human race to take over the world. The epic battle between humanity and the antagonists is always imminent and happens without fail. And, it couldn’t be any other way, humans are victorious. In Arrival the heptapods don’t seem to want to leave their craft any time soon and do not seem to be a threat in any way, shape or form.
The alien heptapods seem to be trying to communicate by means of black smoke that they expulse from their tentacles – very much like octupi. The response of the armed forces is not to start firing at the massive shell-shaped hoverring spacecrafts but to seek out the experts they need to try and communicate with them to determine what it is they want. It seems to me that Arrival carries within its plotline an important message – maybe if we trusted in effective communication and understanding we would be able to avoid many quarrels. Of course it was necessary at some point to have some of the people involved get impatient with the slow process of interpreting the extraterrestrials’ messages, to insert a certain dose of action and suspense to keep the traditional alien film spectators entertained. But in the case of Arrival it was a suspense created around diplomatic relations and cooperation between the countries attempting to figure out the aliens’ intent on planet Earth – not by large scale explosions or constant gun fire sounds. The film stays true to the aspects that make it stand out from other films in the genre of science fiction.
It is not your typical Oscar contender but I have hope of it breaking the Academy’s traditional standards. There is two reasons why I think it could be in the race to collect the prizes in Febuary next year: the beyond-amazing cinematography and the always wonderful acting by Amy Adams.
One of the most notable element of the film is, of course, Amy Adams’ interpretation of linguist protagonist Dr Louise Banks. She brings the emotional depth to the story. She interprets a woman emotionally tortured by the images of her daughter dying at an early age. The character Louise Banks is the element that brings a tone of tenderness and emotion to this otherwise suspenseful science fiction film. It is no surprise that there are a number of close-ups and the expressions on Amy Adams’ face perfectly convey her personality and dedication to her work formed by her life experiences. Amy Adams also proves to be able to perfectly bring through the anxiety and fear that someone in Dr Banks’ situation would experience. If it was up to me, Amy Adams will be up for her sixth Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Academy Awards in a decade.
It would be a crime to write a review of Arrival and not mention the awe-inspiring cinematography that turn this film into an authentic work of art. I personally think I have seldom come across a film so visually impressive. This one image really says it all. The clouds rolling over the hills and the shell-like spacecraft just hovering peacefully and perfectly still in mid-air is just one of the examples of the amazing imagery of this film. And as all followers of awards season are aware, there are always technical and production prizes to be collected. The cinematography, the music and the interpretations all tie-up nicely together to create that ambience of mystery and suspense that best describe this intelligent, emotional and surprisingly original take on the alien genre.
I just managed to go and see it at my local cinema on the last day they were screening it so it might be a bit too late for anyone wanting to see it to watch it on the big screen. But I highly recommend it. Arrival is definitely in my top ten this year. Five stars, no doubt about that. Here is the trailer if you want to get more of a feeling of the film.