REVIEW: ‘Arrival’ discusses a tale of human-alien interaction
Films come and go often, and audiences move on quickly from one film to the next without much thought. Rarely does a film completely shock, unexpectedly impress and profoundly move audiences. This is the case for the 2016 science fiction film Arrival.
Arrival tells the story of a linguistics professor, Louise (Amy Adams), whose expertise gets her entangled in the race to uncover a new alien species that appeared in 12 ships across the globe. She is led by Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker) and teamed up with physics scholar Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to discover the aliens’ purpose for coming to Earth. The film is directed by Dennis Villenueve, who previously helmed the critically acclaimed Prisoners and Sicario.
In its most superficial form, Arrival seems like an unoriginal story featuring an alien invasion and humanities effort to preserve the Earth, a story that has been told several times before. This, however, is not true. The film is indeed about another life form coming to Earth, but the plot reveals a much more intimate, human story. It is a story about communication and the power of togetherness. It is less a spectacle of action and more a character-driven narrative.
One of the film’s most incredible aspects was its outstanding but subtle performances. Adams shines in the starring role, providing a heartwarming foundation for the film. Renner plays alongside with Adams, but it is clear that Adams steals the spotlight. Additionally, Whitaker walks the line between a serious colonel and comic relief successfully. While her counterparts Renner and Whitaker do a fine job in the film, it is Adams holds the attention of the audience throughout the 116-minute running time.
With the exception of a slightly slow and muddled introductory sequence, the pace of the film is brisk, and the plot flows well. Villenueve does an outstanding job to hold the tension and suspense across the film’s many scenes. He effortlessly blends scenes together, intertwining visuals and creating more and more tension until the climax is reached. His pacing and visual storytelling has remained unstoppable since his previous feats. Villenueve, however, could not have been able to present this impressive work to audiences without the help of masterful screenwriter Eric Heisserer.
Heisserer’s script drives the film, providing a multi layered story. It is unbelievable how much emotion Heisserer is able to convey in a science-fiction film featuring aliens and the government. The story is largely under wraps for the majority of the film, and with the assistance of Villenueve’s powerful vision and attention to detail, Heisserer’s script comes to life in an amazing way. Heisserer is able to write a script that subverts cliches and reworks them to create something original and thought-provoking, an incredibly difficult feat.
The visual aspect of the film was additionally laudable because of the work done by the cinematographer, Bradford Young. Young does a phenomenal job to shape Arrival tonally and keep with the ominous yet intriguing mood of the film. His dark and faded color use conveys the tired and stressed attitudes of the characters seeking to solve the dilemma.
As if the film could not have any more redeeming qualities, Arrival features a chilling score that captures the emotion of each scene. Jóhann Jóhannsson, who scored both Prisoners and Sicario, returns to work with Villenueve for the third time. Jóhannsson’s work. It creates an immersive environment for the audience of the film.
Arrival is the rare film that breaks expectations and shocks audiences. Through its smart marketing, it cloaks an incredibly compelling, must-see story. It is a near-perfect film that is sure to linger long after the credits roll. With an unexpected plot, direction and score, as well as an outstanding lead performance by Adams, Arrival establishes itself as one of the best films of the year and perhaps the most original science-fiction film in the past decade. The film arrives in theaters Nov. 11.