The greatest science fiction movies don’t tell a story about aliens from another planet, but a story about who we are. Director Denis Villeneuve, of the fantastic Prisoners and last year’s Sicario, takes inspiration from Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan to give us a truly must-see experience. The marketing for this film really pushes the “ticking-clock” aspect of the film where Amy Adams must translate the alien language before war breaks out. That’s about as simple as I can summarize this story because while the main conflict is the arrival of otherworldly beings, the filmmakers use it as a starting point to tell a much more grand and genuinely emotional story.
After the arrival of 12 spacecrafts around the world, Dr. Louise Banks (Adams) is recruited by the military along with Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to translate the alien language and find out what their purpose is here on Earth. A door opens every 18 hours into the spacecraft and they are led into a room divided by a large glass panel where they meet with two extraterrestrials. They learn from them what they can in a limited amount of time before the door closes again, not being able to return for another 18 hours. They work with countries all around the world trying to decipher their reason for landing on Earth, but some countries are much more prone to destroying them before they destroy us – the ticking clock.
Now while that may just seem like a normal alien invasion film, it’s really the anti-Independence Day. Much like 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, you are truly rooting for war not to break out and for everyone to “just get along.” This is a difficult trick to pull off because most audiences would prefer that things go wrong and we get to enjoy another humans vs. Aliens war flick. Thanks to the filmmakers sticking to a fantastic script, as well as the terrific cast, Arrival becomes so much more. Amy Adams gives a powerhouse performance here, being our gateway into the conflict and appearing in every scene of the film. Her performance is grounded, heartfelt, and calm. On the other side is Jeremy Renner, a physicist who reacts to all of this like most people would – asking what the aliens look like, being both excited and terrified upon first visit, then vomiting upon return. Renner has been a real act to keep an eye on since his genuinely fantastic turn in The Hurt Locker. This is a different part for him and he really excels. Instead of being the gung-ho charismatic soldier, the wild card bank robber, or the confident Hawkeye in the Marvel Universe, he’s the nerdy backbone of the film. He and Adams are the solid ground we as an audience rest our feet upon throughout.
This is a tough film to recommend to many people because while it is a film about an alien invasion, it doesn’t take the cliché route and end with a bang because it feels it has to. Arrival does what the best of sci-fi does and gets our attention with something like first contact, then tells us a story not about them but about ourselves. Thanks to Villeneuve and DP Bradford Young, the film’s mood and gorgeous visuals really make this a standout. I don’t know how audiences will react to this film, but it had an effect on me long after it ended. This is a film that doesn’t go out with an exciting bang, but an emotional gut-punch…and it’s all the better for it.
Runtime: 1 hour, 56 minutes