Be warned: Arrival is not your typical alien invasion movie. If you enjoyed Independence Day, you may find Arrival slow-paced and pretentious, but if you prefer movies that are introspective and make you think, then Arrival is the movie for you.
Prior to the arrival of the aliens, the film opens with Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) having flashbacks of her daughter dying of cancer—imagery which is used in several instances throughout the film. The viewer is then immediately thrust into the chaos of twelve oval-shaped ships abruptly landing throughout the globe. The arrival sends the world’s citizens and its leaders into a frenzy; leading to stock market troubles and a declaration of a state of emergency.
Eager to learn why the ships are here, a U.S. military official named Colonel Weber (Forrest Whitaker) enlists the help of Banks, a renowned linguist and Ian Donnelly, a military astrophysicist (Jeremy Renner).
Weber sends Banks and Donnelly into a ship which has settled in Montana to attempt to communicate with its inhabitants. After their initial visit with the aliens, Banks realizes that verbal communication is hopeless and attempts written communication. The aliens begin to communicate using visual symbols that they emit into the air.
It's worth noting that the aliens depicted in the film are unlike any aliens depicted in a sci-fi movie to date. Murkier, rather than menacing, the creatures are shadowy squid-like beings that the viewer never gets a detailed look at, but are visually impressive nonetheless.
Eventually, Banks is able to communicate effectively enough to ask the aliens what their purpose is on Earth. The aliens express that they wish to "offer a weapon" to the people of Earth. Unfortunately, once the word "weapon" is interpreted, military leaders throughout the world begin to view begin the aliens as a threat to humankind. While other nations, including China and Russia, prepare for military action against the aliens, Banks attempts to convince the U.S. military that the aliens do not pose a threat.
Although the scientific vs. military battle has been waged in numerous alien arrival films, the story that unfolds in Arrival is a distinct and a welcomed addition to the genre. Specifically, the film puts a unique spin on familiar themes like life, death, and time—all while keeping the viewer guessing. There aren’t any big plot twists, but it is still unpredictable to an extent.
Arrival is also packed with a serious emotional punch. Louise’s recurring visions are daughter dying are heart-wrenching and powerfully acted by Adams. Adams delivers a nuanced performance that is more about her facial expressions and what she isn’t saying rather than delivering powerful dialogue. The poignant performance is so strong that it could land Adams her first Oscar.
Renner is fine in his part, but he doesn't have a lot to do on screen. He delivers a solid supporting performance, but this is Adams’ movie. Like Renner, the Oscar-winning Whitaker doesn’t have a challenging role but serves his purpose.
French filmmaker Denis Villeneuve deserves high praise for his innovative direction and the impressive look of the film. Villeneuve, who also directed Prisoners and Sicario, proves once again why he is one today’s best directors and illustrates that he can successful work in any genre he attempts. It is also exciting to see him handle the sci-fi genre so adeptly in Arrival since he is directed the long-awaited Blade Runner sequel due out next year.
Thought provoking to the core, Arrival leaves viewers wondering that if given the chance, would humans really make the effort to learn to communicate with alien life or hastily go to war with it.
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