Review: Arrival


Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario) is the visionary director behind the latest alien sci-fi film, Arrival. Not to be confused with the 1996 Charlie Sheen classic The Arrival.

One day, twelve 1,500ft tall alien ships, that look a lot like the Motorola Pebl phone, land across the woels. The U.S ship lands somewhere in Montana, drawing the attention of the military. World renowned linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is recruited by the U.S government (led by Forest Whitaker) to decipher the mysterious alien language to find out where they are from?  Are they friendly? Do they want to start a war? Are they hungry?

The ships open once every 18 hours allowing the government access to the aliens. Louise, along with another scientist named Ian (Jeremy Renner), enter the ship every day and attempt to learn the alien language and try to communicate. Because of the language barrier, the group is forced to start with basic questions and work their way towards the big question – Why are they here?

As much as Ian and Louise would love to take their time teaching communication, the clock is ticking. With 11 other ships across the globe, parts of the world have gone into a panic and other countries are getting restless and are planning an offensive strike before its too late.

Meanwhile, Louise has been having strange visions since she arrived at the site. The more time she spends with the aliens, the more intense and vivid her visions become.

Amy Adams’ performance really made up for her magic bullet scavenger hunt earlier this year in Batman v Superman. This is how you use Amy Adams in a film. You give her a character with depth. You allow her to be vulnerable without losing any of her strength. And you give her the keys to drive all the pivotal emotional moments in the film.

The first 80 minutes of Arrival are right out of a sci-fi 101 – aliens arrive, people panic, governments overreact, and plenty of cool alien technology. It has all the building blocks for an alien movie.  It’s the last 30 plus minutes that separate Arrival from other alien-on-earth movies.

The story is smart. It’s smart in a way that doesn’t’ translate well on a script. It’s almost a miracle this movie was made. The plot allows the moviegoer to walk down a path and then flips the story on its head. The collective “ohhh” moment audiences will have feels earned.

In true Villeneuve fashion, the story is paced extremely well and has plenty of edge-of-your-seat intense moments.  He uses those moments to beautifully capture the stress and weight of the situation and the heightened fear of global war – the mood is very intense before an alien is ever revealed. Villeneuve’s real gift is his ability to focus on a very intimate story within a much bigger story. He makes his stories feel three dimensional – the locations, the story you’re watching, and the intimate story weaved into the plot. They’re all different pieces of his visual masterpiece.

Grade: B+