For some reason, I have always been attracted to movies that depict some sort of impending doom on the human race. Dystopian society? Check. Zombies? Check. Alien invasions? Check. Based on my viewing of a thankfully unrevealing trailer, Arrival fell into the latter category and that was enough for me to make a trip to the movies. For the first 60 minutes or so of this film, it appears that this is your standard alien invasion flick. Who are they? Why are they here? Are they going to hurt us? However, Arrival takes a new direction and that is what truly sets it apart from the rest.
Arrival begins with 12 mysterious extra-terrestrial aircraft landing at different locations across the globe. The U.S. military has already made contact with the visitors, and requests the help of renowned linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to decipher their language. The aliens, christened Heptapods by our protagonists, use a complex, liquid paint style of writing, the translation of which provides us with the foundation for the main plot. The US Military want to know those three important questions; who are they? Why are they here? Are they going to hurt us? Dr. Banks wants to develop more of an understanding of the Heptapods and delve a little deeper. It’s at this point where I’m hesitant to go any further into the plot, as any spoiler has the ability to destroy the entire movie.
What Denis Villeneuve has created here is very different from his previous entries. He has a penchant for delivery a harrowing, but realistic view of how bad humanity can actually be. Arrival is a complete departure from this outlook and actually chooses to show humanity at its best. His pacing is perfection. Nothing is too difficult to understand, but nothing is obvious. As a huge fan of Sicario and Enemy, I already held Villeneuve in high regard, but this puts him on another level for me and firmly in my top 10 favourite directors. His direction is slick, it’s engaging and his ability to slowly feed you important information to let you piece together the plot is second to none. If anyone had any doubts about his control over Blade Runner, they have been well and truly expelled.
Amy Adams turns in a truly wonderful performance here. Dr. Banks is a divorcee living with the heartbreak of losing her child to cancer, and we feel every part of the pain that she is living with. Despite this, she is both subtle and strong; humble, yet tenacious. Her portrayal of each and every layer of Dr. Banks’ character builds a very strong case for a 6th Oscar nomination. Jeremy Renner forms an excellent bond with Adams throughout the movie and the two clearly have great chemistry on screen, but this is a somewhat lighter part for Renner, albeit one he plays perfectly. Likewise, Forest Whittaker delivers a solid and stern performance, but the main focus of this movie is on Adams and in my opinion it benefits from this greatly.
The tension in this movie is backed by a stirring score by Jóhann Jóhannsson. The jarring brass bursts from the background complemented with ethereal strings make for absolutely riveting encounters, layered with celestial beauty. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind about an Oscar nomination here. Johannsson has now proved his calibre time and time again, and I’m extremely excited about him teaming up with Villeneuve once more for the aforementioned Blade Runner sequel.
In recent years there has been an ever-growing, gaping hole in the cinematic world for an intelligent science fiction movie. Interstellar is as close as we’ve got but in a way it suffers from travelling too far into the unknown and leaving the realms of possibility. Arrival feels real. The emotions we see feel real. Even the Heptapods have an element of humanity about them, and we can relate to them. Denis Villeneuve has combined a terrific script with fantastic performances from his leads, and along with beautiful cinematography and a stirring score, the end result is a bona fide masterpiece.