Arrival

arrival-movie-poster

Release: Friday, November 11, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Eric Heisserer

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

I’m just going to say it: Arrival is magnificent. It’s also: 1) another grand gesture from the visionary Québécois Denis Villeneuve that’s both sophisticated and stylish; 2) a film that really “makes you think;” 3) the antidote to the last several days in which the world has been watching and weighing in as the “United” States of America may or may not have been tearing itself apart when Donald Trump went from real estate mogul to president-elect.

Of course, the film has no interest in making a political statement but it is interested in bringing us closer together as a global society. The one thing it is really good at is reminding us of our ability to empathize and cooperate with one another in times of hardship, even when there are competing interests, values and perspectives at play; that the way we communicate is as important as what we are communicating. Arrival, based upon the novella Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, promotes language as the ultimate tool and weapon mankind has and will ever have. It’s both our currency for clarifying all that is foreign and unfamiliar but just as easily it can create barriers if in no other way than when we use it to obscure what we really feel.

In some sense Arrival feels allegorical for a modern society wherein the furor of social media tends to bring out the worst in people. It uses an alien encounter to elucidate both the simplicity of the act of communicating and the infinitely more complex process of understanding and interpreting. The chronicle centers around an expert linguist, a Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), recruited by the U.S. military to decipher alien code they’ve received from a massive egg-shaped monolith in Montana, one of an apparent dozen that have suddenly appeared at seemingly random locations across the globe. The end game of course is to find out just what they are doing here, on this planet, but along the way we become privy to an altogether unexpected series of revelations.

Villeneuve’s latest is not merely a message film fitted into a pretty frame (although it very much is that). It offers a thrilling and profoundly personal adventure, one that more or less hits the ground running and remains comfortably paced throughout. An ambitious narrative is met with an appropriate sense of scale: Bradford Young’s panning cameras hint at the crippling notion that we may be alone in the universe, brilliantly reinforced by how deserted the college campus looks when it’s evacuated. Then there are the ships themselves — empyreal in their gently curving architecture. We call them ‘shells’ because labels are easier and they somehow feel comforting. Finally, news reports of mass riots and looting in poorer nations set the narrative against a backdrop of fear and panic. These bits serve as the most indicting evidence of what happens when we misconstrue things that are said, done or merely suggested.

Arrival feels grandiose even if the story sticks close to Dr. Banks as she is awoken from another troubled sleep by the surly Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) telling her the world needs her help. On the way to Montana, the sole American sighting, she meets theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), who will prove a calming presence in an otherwise chaotic and prejudiced environment. It is these characters, plus a few faceless soldiers, with whom Dr. Banks will enter the ship in an attempt to open a line of communication. Arrival might be at its most compelling when that first contact is established, when we are formally introduced to the Heptapods — serious out-of-towners with seven tentacle-like appendages from which they shoot a black inky substance. After a failed first trip, nerves eventually calm and Dr. Banks’ intuition proves extremely valuable as work begins in earnest.

Several weeks of sleepless nights and haunting visions of her deceased daughter begin weighing heavily on our ambassador. Making matters worse, China is demanding an ultimatum from our squid-like visitors after one particular translation (‘Use weapon’) incites worldwide panic. In a race against time, Dr. Banks must determine what connection, if any, her visions of Hannah has to what she is doing here in the present. The results prove to be both heartbreaking and galvanizing, the drama culminating in an Interstellar-esque reveal that’s altogether satisfying insofar as it is surprisingly coherent. And almost 100% convincing. Arrival risks devolving into abstraction but the genius lies within the screenplay, courtesy of Eric Heisserer [Lights Out; The Thing (2011)]. It engages intellectually while structurally providing enough of the tangibles — flashbacks become a motif — to support its lofty ambitions. And all-around terrific performances, most notably Adams and Renner, send us out of the theater on a major high.

In a way this film isn’t about an alien encounter at all — it’s certainly not an invasion, per se; rather, this is a forward-thinking, socially responsible drama that celebrates the best of humanity.

Recommendation: A movie for the thinking-man, undoubtedly, Arrival continues the ascension of one Denis Villenueve as it captures him working comfortably within the realm of psychobiological science fiction. It features stellar performances and a great alien presence. Regular collaborator Jóhann Jóhannsson is on hand to bolster the atmospheric feel of the film with a cerebral and moody score, so if you’re needing any other reason to go see this you might see it for that, too. This is one of my favorites of 2016, absolutely. A very exciting film. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 116 mins.

Quoted: “Now that’s a proper introduction.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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27 thoughts on “Arrival

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  4. I love this film so much!!! I totally agree, it makes you think, and this statement is so true “Arrival feels grandiose even if the story sticks close to Dr. Banks”! And I like that compared to all the alien invasions guns didn’t come first, it was science and I think that’s so much more realistic and life-like. Such a great film, damn it, I want to see it again! Great review as well!

    • This WordPress site is really not mobile-friendly. I had posted a reply to your comment awhile ago but it never went through, seemingly. My apologies on a delayed response!

      Yes, I’m glad you took to this film as well. It was breathtaking, really. I can’t wait for the next time myself. So moving. And yet another example of Amy Adams moving up in the cinematic world. She was great here.

  5. I enjoyed reading your excellent review and I’m glad so many people like this film. But for me it was disappointing. The digital effects are mediore by today’s standards, the heroine’s back story is melodramatic, the concept of memory circularity is weak which leads to a muddled narrative structure. The American propaganda machine has worked overtime with this one but that’s where it is made so they get to be the heroes yet again. At least it is thought provoking.

  6. Damn man, you really have a talent for unpacking the deeper messages of a film. You make me envious! Brilliant write up man, you certainly gave me a few more things to ponder on when I go to see this for a third time. So glad you loved this too, for the most part we’ve been on par with the movies we have really loved! 🙂

    • I’d so love to give this repeat viewings at the theater! Ugh. My bank account will not let me.

      Thanks for the compliments man. Really appreciated. There’s just so much to dive into thematically here. I could have made a review three times as long. But then no one would read it. Lol

      • I would have read more man, I’m not blowing smoke up your arse, you seriously have a true knack for unpacking the thematic element of films, and after only one viewing? Fuckin’ good stuff man. I felt the same way when I read your post about Embrace Of The Serpent, you really dug into that one too. I loved it by the way, amazing on the big screen. Forgot to write about it tho, I need to see it again now cos I don’t remember shit. Fuckin’ epilepsy!!

        • I would love to read your take on Embrace of the Serpent. Good chance for you to get something else unique out there to the masses. It felt like a privilege getting to watch that movie. As pretentious as I sound lol.

          Really, you’re too kind man. A lot of the time I feel like I’m not doing films the proper justice, so it’s nice to get this kind of feedback. 😀

          • I always feel that way mate, heh good to know I’m not alone. I just figure, everyone has their own take, everyone is different, everyone takes something unique from every film. Its great to find new angles on films that I’ve seen, though it does sometimes make me think I’m a bit thick for not realising them! 😉

            And no worries at all my friend, there is a reason that your blog has been one of my go-to blogs ever since I first ‘met’ ya, aaaages ago now 🙂 You rarely steer me wrong, the only films I can think of that we disagreed on this year was Hacksaw and… I think you liked War Dogs more than me. But I think it can be fun to disagree, ya know? Promotes discussion, which is what I like most about all this blogging stuff. Discussing films with people.

            BTW I just posted a brief take on what I thought of the Arrival soundtrack, would love to hear your thoughts mate

  7. Great review man! saw the reaction video too and couldn’t be more excited for this film. I was gradually climbing on the Villenueve train with Prisoners but I was totally on it with Sicario and now this. And he’s working on the Blade Runner sequel too!
    I suspect he’s going to have one of the greatest runs any director has ever had.

    • Haha glad you checked out the Real Time Reaction thing. Something I’m gonna experiment with on occasion. It’ll be cool for really big movies I’m anticipating. To see how my immediate reaction may or may not differ from the opinion I ultimately form in a review. As for Arrival, there wasn’t much change. This was such a wonderful, hopeful movie I couldn’t help but love it.

  8. I just didn’t think the reveal was all that intelligent. I was like, is that it? The set-up was great though. I loved the mood. Cinematography nomination for sure.

    • I feel like i kinda got trapped talking about one aspect of this film in this review haha. I wanted to talk more about how it plays with the concept of time, how it seems to emphasize how precious it really is, and asks us would we still live our lives the same way, even knowing what was in store? That was a really compelling thought, too. I don’t know if it necessarily becomes sci-fi canon, but for me this was a really great experience.

      I think I also said something to you about having a little bit of a come-down afterward but that quickly faded! 😉

  9. Great review. I really liked this one as well. The reveal worked for me and I agree the pacing was excellent – it suited the movie’s (and Amy Adams’ character’s) methodical approach without ever feeling slow.

    • Not only was this a lot of fun to watch, it felt important. Noble, even. I just loved how all the reveals were handled. Villeneuve also doesn’t pander nor does he treat his audiences like they are stupid. I love his work. I have got to make a point to watch Incendies and Polytechnique (think those are the only two I haven’t seen of his)

  10. I’m of the same opinion as you Tom, what a movie! It got me to think deeply and involved me so much. And I can’t praise the performance from Amy Adams enough.

  11. HA! A perfect score??? What kind of nonsense…..?

    Nah man, fantastic review and you hit on so much of what made this such a good watch. Can’t wait to explore it again with my son in a few hours. He’s a 14 year-old thinker who I believe will get a kick out of it.

    • Wink-wink, nudge-nudge. I see what you were doing there pal.

      It could only be a full pie here. I kept coming up with reasons to drop the score. But I also kept circling back to the fact that this felt like such a mature film, not only in the sense that it is a “smart story” that “makes you think” but that it offers several messages that viewers can take away from it. The notion of time as a valuable resource; language as a tool/weapon; human beings having the gift to empathize and relate to one another. I felt it offered so many things and it worked on all those level.

  12. Ugh. I just didn’t love this like I thought I would and so desperately wanted to. With that said, it is still a technically good—great film—but emotionally it sadly did nothing for me. But I’ll concede, maybe I just need another watch to fully anticipate. Still think Denis is one of the best in the game though. He’s appointment viewing now.

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