Arrival is the smart science fiction movie that leaves you stunned and wondering if the sleight of hand lives up to the punchline.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Summary: A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.
There is a certain type of movie goer that will enjoy Arrival. If you enjoy slower moving, smart science fiction like Gattaca or Ex Machina, then Arrival is the movie for you. It’s the type of science fiction that expects the audience to mostly keep up and understand that you aren’t here to see explosions; you’re here to see people react believably to unbelievable situations (in this case it’s first contact) and the movie does an amazing job of doing this. While you have both Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, the movie really belongs to Adams. She gives the quiet and reserved performance of someone who is trying to both understand and do the impossible.
The movie is built on a game changing twist that comes to a head at the beginning of the third act which pretty much changes the entire movie. It’s not one I will spoil, nor should anyone else, but even after weeks thinking about it I’m still not entirely sure it worked. It’s a movie I want and need to see again because it left me feeling strangely speechless. I spent a good ten minutes in the empty theater with another critic, hesitant to leave because then I would have to talk to a studio rep and I didn’t know what to say. To this day if someone asks if I liked the movie I usually just say that it left me speechless and not elaborate because I can’t.
There is some truly masterful cinematography and director from Denis Villeneuve who brought us the fantastic Sicario and Prisoners. There is a distinct lack of music which makes everything feel that much more grounded. The aliens and their language are very interestingly designed, even if the aliens walk the line between being terrifying and looking goofy. There is a “ticking clock” but not in the way that most people are familiar with in an alien movie. The action beats, if they can be called that, are sparse and small.
Arrival is a movie that left me wondering if I liked it in the end. I think, after some time, I can say that I did. The premise is well executed and using the idea of an alien invasion to force the human race to communicate is an interesting one. If you know you like smart science fiction then know Arrival is the movie for you, but even if you’re on the fence I would highly recommend it. It’s a movie you won’t forget anytime soon.