Arrival is a science fiction mystery drama from Denis Villeneuve, based on the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. Villeneuve continues his outstanding run of form: having directed Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy and Sicario, he turns his attention to science fiction with Arrival. The film has similarities with Contact, the Robert Zemeckis film, in which Jodie Foster plays a woman desperately trying to interpret a message to prove the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence originating from the Vega star system.
Instead of Jodie Foster, we have Amy Adams, playing linguist Louise Banks. When 12 mysterious shell -shaped spacecraft touchdown around the globe, Banks is commissioned by the US military to use her communication skills in order to translate and establish contact. As each nation races to translate their own version of the message from the visitors, misinterpretations provoke international forces to prepare for war. With the help of a theoretical physicist, Banks tries to discover the purpose of the alien landing before the suspended peace gives way to anarchy.
Arrival stars Amy Adams, who is supported by Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg. Her performance has a knowing heaviness to it, serene in the chaos, seemingly out of her depth and yet selflessly compelled to find answers for herself, her nation and the peace of mankind. This unfettered character is the thread that seems to knit everything together, as intimate memories whisk us away from a threatening situation. Renner, Whitaker and Stuhlbarg keep Adams relatable and in check as her motives are questioned and trust is earned. While a stellar and accomplished cast, Arrival will be remembered for Adams, who embodies the tone of the drama.
"I learned how to speak alien... what did you do today?"
While somewhat slow-moving, Villeneuve gives this science-fiction mystery drama a mercurial flow. It's a reflective piece of cinema, delivering smart and thought-provoking content without spoon feeding. The mystery and uncertainty surrounding the alien visitors remains and helps generate a tense atmosphere. Villeneuve cloaks their appearance and objectives, allowing us to form our own opinion and jump to conclusions with the constant threat of the unknown. This tunnel of echoes ends up saying more about humanity and our fear of otherness than getting to grips with an alien race.
The crisp and clinical cinematography is reminiscent of Looper. Elemental and at times ethereal, we are swathed in surreal and beautiful visuals, which have a great balance of familiar versus unfamiliar. These enchanting visuals, characterised by the surrealism of a giant, smooth spaceship suspended over a landscape, are complemented by an otherworldly soundtrack. Together, the audiovisuals have a similar harmony and majesty to Inception, immersing us in a dream state and then teasing us with the promise of limitless peril.
Arrival is a breathtaking and immersive cinematic experience that slowly lowers you into a body of amniotic fluid as philosophy and drama mingle. The nature of time is examined and just like Inception, you'll feel compelled to watch the film again to truly comprehend the overarching message. It's like the science fiction antithesis of War of the Worlds, delivering a more pensive, thought-provoking and even Socratic exploration of what can be gleaned from extra terrestrial life.