This review originally appeared on CinemAbysmal here.
Arrival (2016) – Science Fiction | Drama
Directed by: Denis Villenueve
Starring: Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner
How I Watched: Theatres
Best Line: “Language is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.”
The events of the last two weeks have been rough on a lot of us. No matter which way you would like to slice it, the truth is that the world has fundamentally changed. Some of us are clinging to reality in a strange existential fog while others are sitting back and waiting to see what will happen. I’m not suggesting that writer Eric Heisserer and director Denis Villenueve saw the future when making Arrival, but I think it’s safe to suggest that they did a good job tapping into the anger, frustration and confusion floating like a cloud above our planet right now.
On the surface, Arrival is a pretty hard Sci-Fi film, borrowing elements from some of the most revered movies in the genre. For those who don’t know, the movie begins with an “arrival” as 12 mysterious and enormous objects suddenly appear across the globe without any apparent intentions. The US government enlists the help of language expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to perhaps obtain this intent. The film is unapologetic with its use of aliens and these are some of the better aliens I’ve ever seen. When it comes down to it though, Arrival is a pretty great drama.
Those that have seen Amy Adams in movies like Doubt, The Fighter and American Hustle know that she can handle herself in a dramatic role. This however, is something different. Adams absolutely owns this film, delivering an incredibly heartbreaking performance that is both devastating and thought-provoking in the most mind-fucking way possible. We’ve all seen Inception and we’ve all experienced the occasional Shyamalan twist, but what Arrival gives us is a whole new meaning to crazy.
I’ve only seen a couple of Villenueve’s movies (I haven’t seen Sicario yet – I know, I’m just the worst), but Prisoners rocked my world with its twist-filled darkness. Enemy with Jake Gylenhaal is probably more closely related to Arrival with its utterly bothersome climax. Something that Villenueve is definitely great at though, is using darkness to stun his audience. Like David Lynch, his movies are dark, muted and a bit relentless in the shock value. There’s plenty of shock in Arrival so be prepared.
Speaking of shock, holy shit, the aliens. I won’t go too far into it, but the Lovecraftian brilliance that they put into these things was astounding. I talked to a friend last night that also saw the movie and he described them as “a big bucket of nope.” While I can see why someone would say that, I wanted to see more of them. Perhaps though, how Villenueve presented them was perfect, as their appearances did not take away from the incredible storyline either. However, if aliens frighten you, I’d stay away from this one.
The most important part of Arrival to me was the narrative concerning international relations. Amid the invasion, the countries in which a ship landed each investigated in the ships their own way. As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that each country does not agree on how these ships should be handled, which leads to an all-out international crisis. This hit way too close for home for me, as my fears for how the world is currently treating itself looked a lot like this. I know, I know, it’s a movie about aliens, but this really struck a chord in me that I was not expecting walking into the theater.
I was a little stunned to find as much meaning as I did from Arrival. While it’s a really cool science fiction movie about aliens making first contact, it cleverly delivers a statement about the shape the world is in right now. I enjoy the way Denis Villenueve works and absolutely expect Arrival to shake things up this awards season. Science-Fiction is not generally treated very well at the Academy, but movies that have something to say with relevance about us as a species generally do. So don’t be shocked when this one gets heaped up toward the top.
Final Score: 4/4
Similar Films: Enemy, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, War of the Worlds