Earth prepares for new visitors in the much anticipated follow up for critically acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve, called “Arrival”. When multiple mysterious extraterrestrial spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team is put together to investigate, including linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), and US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker). Mankind teeters on the verge of global war as everyone scrambles for answers to the mysterious presence of these outer world creatures. Banks, Donnelly, and Weber will take a chance that could threaten their lives, and, quite possibly, humanity, as they brace for the ultimate confrontation with Earth’s newest guests. “Arrival” is rated PG-13 for brief adult language.
Denis Villenueve is perhaps my favorite director working today, and with movies like “Arrival”, it’s no wonder why the bar keeps getting set higher and higher for this remarkable filmmaker. Going into this movie, I expected so many things in one direction, but was taken in a total opposite with the presentation. To anyone expecting a big-budget alien encounter movie, you might be disappointed, but the disappointment will only lead you to much bigger heights. This movie impressed me on every end of the creative spectrum, and perhaps the biggest shame is the fact that the best parts about it I can’t discuss for fear that spoilers will give away too much. “Arrival” deals with so many complex themes and ideas that blend especially with the surface plot of these foreign creatures from another world coming to ours and bringing with them a series of questions that has us on the edge of our seats for the entire time. As far as alien invasion movies go, this is not only the greatest that I have ever seen, but a different kind of monster all together that totally redefines the genre and serves as another testimony to Denis’s magnificence that has already racked up quite the filmography of instant classics.
The story is very layered, often times shuffling between this invasion, as well as flashbacks with Louise’s character that gives us some insight into her backstory. It’s orchestrated with an enriching quality to storytelling that takes us in many directions long before the twist, and what a beautiful one it is. The story is the most important aspect here because it is what creates the tensions, not the visuals which is par for the course to this particular genre. What really amazes me about this story is that there were so many problems that I had initially with the movie in the first two acts that had me shrugging my head as to why so many critics were giving above favorable reviews to it. Then it happened; the twist heard around the world. I stood astonished as all of my problems evaporated into thin air once I understood the logic behind their reasoning. The slow pacing and illustration of every situation with our protagonist’s test subjects was there so the audience could always remain eye-to-eye with the very turns the that the story entails. Some matters within the flashbacks that didn’t quite add up to the continuity in which they are told, was literally wiped away in one swoop that left me internally applauding the true brilliance of modern day storytelling. It’s something special in 2016 when something can throw you completely for a loop not only in shock value, but in revealing the bigger picture. In that regards, Villenueve’s latest triumph is a good painting up close, but greater when you step back and see what is rendered beneath the beautiful colors.
And what gorgeous and appealing tones they are that captivates our senses for another visual dessert that is always filling and goes down smooth. Cinematographer Roger Deakins unfortunately didn’t join Villenueve for the first time in years, but no step was missed with the vibrantly imposing design in Bradford Young’s rendering. To anyone who has followed Denis, you know that he loves presenting these worlds that are very much ominous and decayed in illustration. This goes well here because we get the sense of a very bleak outlook on life from Louise’s backstory, often struggling to be motivated from her daily routines. The establishing shots not only of the first images of the ship, but with the following shots for our characters from one room to another, reminds us that this is something new and insightful that plays against your typical alien movie. Some of my favorite stylings were those of the mysterious fog that surrounds the alien ship before our initial deposition. This shot alone communicates to us the uncertainty and enigmatic nature that the movie dives right into within the opening fifteen minutes of the film. I can’t say enough for Young’s patient touch on framing and taking in everything around the main focus in every image. This is a cinematography visionary with extreme precision that has me excited for his ideas in the upcoming untitled Han Solo Star Wars film due out in 2018.
One thing that I forgot to mention earlier was that of the social commentary on our own society, which proves that this is the perfect movie for the world at this place and time with everything going on in the idea of dividing others who don’t meet our ideal plans. The movie also focuses heavily on the idea of language barriers and jumbled translations that come with them, projecting a sense of fear or urgency when it comes to our impatience with understanding the whole sentence in structure. With the presence of so many different languages and cultures in the world, we are born into a place that has already labeled us as something different to somebody out there, and that imposition is detailed at such a disadvantage in this film, especially considering the race against the clock of uncertainty as to why our newest guests have harbored here and now.
The great Johann Johannsson steals the show by offering a subtle mastering of pulse-setting tension, as well as articulate volume that never overtakes the scene. The musical tones here are played very accordingly, and sometimes faintly enough that you can barely hear them, but this is masterfully done by Johann because he wants it so claustrophobic and quiet in the theater that you’re afraid to even breathe, something that 1979’s “Alien” masterfully crafted over thirty-five years ago. The encounter scenes with the aliens are nearly on mute, but if you listen close enough, the musical narration guides us through the terrifying waters of uncertainty that bubbles tension deep beneath this sea bed.
Amy Adams performance in this film was fantastic. She has certainly proven herself to be manageable of an extreme degree of varying diversity in the roles she takes on, but her fragile encompassing of the foggy Louise proves that this is a woman destined for something greater. She seems to be in the right place at the right time for this situation, and there is a satisfying reality to this very theory that will have you stunned during the anxiety-ridden finale. Adams grasps our heartstrings without ever shedding so much as a single tear, and that takes remarkable depth from one of the very best situational actresses working today. If I did have one slight critique for this movie it was that it really is a one woman show, as Jeremy Renner and Forrest Wittaker really didn’t have a lot to do to justify their characters existences. Renner is a little different because the finale shakes things up for him slightly, but Wittaker is wasted as the typical FBI guy who is there only to shake things up when the plot deems it necessary. I could’ve used a little more emphasis on both of their backstories, but it wasn’t a make-or-break deal in the grand scheme of this otherwise emotionally engaging picture.
Overall, “Arrival’s” meat is in its story and breathtaking finale that brings it all to life when accompanied with social commentary eerily similar to the adversities we face in our own world. It’s riveting, engaging and very deserving of future re-watches with its reliability on thought-provoking material. Villenueve’s “Arrival” comes in peace, but leaves you in pieces for the spine-tingling cloud of tension that you see coming, but never feels less suffocating once it has engulfed our characters. One of the very best this year.