Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
After mysterious and gigantic space ships appear in 12 locations around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks (Adams) is recruited by the US Government to find a way to communicate with the extra-terrestrial beings and discover their intentions. As global tensions rise, Banks and her colleagues face a race against time to prevent all-out global war.
When it comes to the science fiction genre, in particular stories that involve extra-terrestrials, we tend to get one extreme or the other; a stupid and totally mindless explosion of CGI where we have just loud and expensive action sequences and very little actual plot, or we get an intelligent film with more focus on interesting and thought provoking ideas and themes. Well thankfully for every cinematic detritus like Independence Day: Resurgence we also get films like Arrival.
Denis Villeneuve has already excelled with other genres with, well, every film that he has made so far, and with Arrival he can add another genre to that list that he has mastered. Villeneuve just so far (and this compliment extends to the cast and crew that he assembled for these films) has just demonstrated an incredible ability to just (in the simplest of terms) ‘get it’, and presents the narrative in the utmost effective and appropriate way.
Arrival works perfectly on so many levels; it is at its core a film that uses its narrative to effectively examine interesting and thought provoking ideas and themes. The pacing and the level of exposition are perfectly judged (which is certainly no mean feat) so the audience are not given too little cryptic exposition, but at the same time are not patronised with things being overexplained (a common problem in mainstream films of today). I have no doubt that the book also did this, but Villeneuve also adds to the film what only cinema as a visual medium can, and he brings stunning visuals which only enhance the engagement of the film and never even threaten to undermine it. Bradford Young’s incredible and often quite cold and autumnal cinematography brings about added atmosphere, as does regular Villeneuve composer Jóhann Jóhannsson with a stunning score.
Arrival is very much a perfect blend of style and substance, and proof that when the balance of the two is got just right by the director, the result is just how great cinema can truly be on so many levels. To go into too much detail of the plot of Arrival and the themes it explores feels like spoiling it for others; this is very much a film that should be experienced by all, both as a piece of masterful cinematic storytelling and for what is very much a deeply cinematic experience on a visual, audio and cerebral level.
The performances too are excellent; Jeremy Renner, Michael Stuhlberg and Forest Whitaker are all suitably excellent in their roles, but of course Amy Adams’ central performance is the key as our engagement with the overall narrative and its core themes does rest very much on the shoulders of her character; with the story very much told from her point of view, she excels with depicting her character’s emotional complexities and makes for an engaging protagonist that we route for and deeply care for.
From start to finish Arrival maintains a high level of consistency as it engages on a basic narrative level, but also on an intellectual level thanks to how its ideas are presented at an intentionally measured pace that only serves to complement our engagement with the overall narrative. What is also refreshing is that despite the sometimes cryptic presentations of its themes, Arrival is a film with total (and very satisfying) narrative closure. In this day and age of filmmakers trying to be a little too clever for their own good, this once again proves that Villeneuve can rise above this and just treat the audience with the necessary respect, and also make one of the most intellectually engaging and satisfying films of 2016.
A perfect balance of style and substance: Villeneuve nails another genre with Arrival, a film that not only grips from start to finish on both an emotional and cerebral level, but will certainly linger long in the memory afterwards.