If they can’t speak English, can’t trust ’em. Right?
On one random day, for unexplained reasons, multiple mysterious extraterrestrial spacecraft touch down across the globe. What do they want? What are they? And what the hell could they possibly do? No one quite knows, which is why, as expected, the government gets on it immediately. And in doing so they, they put together an elite team including linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), and US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), to help investigate these matters and see if there’s any harm going to be done to planet Earth. No one quite knows how to communicate with these extraterrestrial beings, but Louise believes that she’s able to and starts figuring out what they’re language is, how to decipher it and yes, how to figure out all that they’re feeling or saying. It’s not an easy task, and with the rest of the world watching, sitting on pins and needles, not sure of what to make of these things, it becomes extra stressful for Louise. However, she has a plan and knows that it’s always best to treat outsiders with the utmost respect and dignity, especially if they could exterminate your whole population with the drop of a hat.
Another year and guess what? Another Denis Villeneuve movie. While saying that may make it seem like I’m discouraging the fact that one of our brighter, more inspired directors of today’s day and age continues to make a movie each and every year, it’s not meant to. As opposed to someone like Woody Allen, who churns out flicks because he’s got nothing else better to do and well, has the money, Villeneueve’s movies seem like they took forever to direct, are handled with care, and yes, for the most part, pretty damn good. Sure, at the same time, they’re dreary, sad, sometimes, violent, and yes, a little disturbing, but hey, they’re mostly all good movies and they deserve to be appreciated as such, right?
Anyway, with Arrival, it’s interesting to see Villeneuve sort of in a new light. He’s tried out the thriller genre by now, so instead of just focusing his sights on that, he goes towards sci-fi and it’s actually surprising how different this flick is from his others. While it’s still thrilling and sometimes unpredictable, it’s not dark, it’s not dreary, and it sure as hell isn’t ultra-violent – it’s actually quite heartfelt and inspiring.
Yes, for a movie about so-called aliens, I’m as shocked as you are.
What it all mostly comes down to though, is that Villeneuve himself never keeps us as informed as viewers, as we ought to be. Like Louise and all of these other characters, we don’t quite know what these beings what, or what they’re put on this planet for – what we do know is that they’re here, on Earth, and they may pose something of a threat. However, it’s interesting to watch as Louise and all of these other scientists get together and try to communicate with these beings in a relaxed, peaceful, and sometimes civil manner.
Most of the time, with sci-fi flicks especially, we see that the alien-beings up in the sky are evil and out to get the human race, but it’s a little different here; the aliens here look different, for sure, but they also have different intentions that we haven’t quite seen, or heard before in sci-fi movies of this nature. Even the layout of the pod is interesting; it’s literally one dark room, with a clear-glass and totally left up to our imagination – it’s dreamy, beautiful, but also terrifying, and seeing this on the biggest screen possible, honestly, the better.
Oh and yeah, Arrival is quite thrilling, but not in the way that you’d automatically expect. There’s some guns, there’s some explosions, there’s some running, there’s some running, and yeah, there’s some cursing, but it’s not all played-up for dramatic-effect because Villeneuve had nothing else better to do – it all feels earned. The movie’s main source of tension and excitement mostly comes through not knowing what to expect next and constantly waiting for this situation to get out-of-hand and spiral out of control, which it sort of does, but not in the way that you’d expect. Villeneueve and writer Eric Heisserer are constantly flipping the script on sci-fi conventions here that it is, yes, smart, but also interesting to watch, as we never quite know where they’re going next, nor does it seem like they know, either.
They’re just having way too much fun living life in a sci-fi flick and well, I can’t blame them.
The only aspect the movie sort of falls a tad apart in is the fact that it relies a little too heavily on this final-act twist that, for all the red herrings, curve-balls, random dream sequences, and symbolism, is still obvious and doesn’t quite pull the rug from underneath us. It’s hard to really be mad at a movie for not having a solid final-act twist, but there’s also something to be said for a movie that seems to harp on it so much and so often, that after awhile, it becomes annoying. We get what the movie’s getting at and because of that, it feels overdone.
Still, the cast is quite great here. Amy Adams is a sweet and peaceful presence as Louise, but also hints at having something of a darker side to her; Jeremy Renner plays the hip, cool and joking scientist that aids her in all of her work and has a nice bit of chemistry with her; Forest Whitaker shows up as the as the army Colonel, making it seem like he’s going to be the evil, dispirited villain of the story, but surprisingly, doesn’t turn out that way; and Michael Stuhlbarg, despite not being given a whole bunch to do, still has some fun as the coordinator of this mission and it’s just nice to see him around.
Consensus: Despite a weak final-act, Arrival is interesting, thrilling and smart, while also feature another win for Denis Villeneuve, one of film’s more compelling talents who seems to be challenging himself more and more with each flick he does.
8.5 / 10