Films often come and go like clockwork, and audiences move on quickly from one film to the next without much thought. People may see a film and enjoy it at its surface level, not thinking about the deeper meaning or subtext within. More rarely, however, a film is released that completely shocks, unexpectedly impresses, and profoundly moves audiences.
This is the case for the 2016 science fiction film Arrival.
Arrival tells the story of a Linguistics professor Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, whose expertise gets her entangled in the race to uncover a new alien species that appeared in 12 ships across the globe.Banks is led by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) and teamed up with Physics scholar Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to discover the aliens’ purpose for coming to Earth.
The film is directed by Dennis Villenueve, who previously directed the critically acclaimed Prisoners (2013) and Sicario (2015).
In its most superficial form, Arrival seems like an unoriginal alien invasion story detailing humanity’s effort to preserve the Earth; a story that has been told several times before.
This, however, is not the case. The film is indeed about another life form coming to Earth, but the plot soon reveals itself as a much more intimate, human story. It is a story about new modes of communication and the power of togetherness. It is less a spectacle of action and more a character driven narrative.
One of the film’s most incredible aspects was its outstanding performances. Adams shines in the starring role, providing a heartwarming foundation for the film. Jeremy Renner plays well with Adams, but it is clearly her show. Additionally, Forest Whitaker walks the line between a serious Colonel and comic relief successfully. While her counterparts Renner and Whitaker do a fine job in the film, Adams holds the attention of the audience throughout the film’s 116 running time. Her ability to translate an empathetic character making several difficult choices is what sets her apart from her fellow players.
With the exception of a slightly slow and muddled introductory sequence, the pace of the film is brisk, and the plot flows well.
Villenueve does an outstanding job to hold the tension and suspense across the film’s many scenes. He effortlessly blends scenes together, intertwining visuals and creating more and more tension until the climax is reached. His pacing and visual storytelling has remained unstoppable since Prisoners and Sicario. Villenueve could not, however, have been able to establish this feat without the help of the impressive script by writer Eric Heisserer.
Heisserer’s script drives the film, providing a multi-layered story. It is unbelievable how much emotion Heisserer is able to convey in a science fiction film. The reveal is largely under wraps for the majority of the film, and with the assistance of Villenueve’s powerful vision and attention to detail, Heisserer’s script comes to life in an amazing way. Heisserer is able to write a script that subverts expectations and reworks tropes to create something original and thought-provoking.
The visual aspect of the film was additionally laudable because of the work done by the cinematographer, Bradford Young. Young does a phenomenal job to shape Arrival and maintain the ominous, alluring mood of the film. His dark and faded color use conveys the tired and stressed attitudes of the characters seeking to solve the dilemma.
As if the film could not have any more redeeming qualities, Arrival features a chilling score that captures the emotion of each scene. Jóhann Jóhannsson, who scored both Prisoners and Sicario, returns to work with Villenueve for the third time on Arrival. His work has never been better. It creates an immersive environment for the audience of the film.
Arrival is the rare film that breaks expectations and shocks audiences. Through its smart marketing, it cloaks an incredibly compelling, must-see story. It is a near perfect film that is sure to linger long after the credits roll. With an unexpected plot, direction and score, as well as an outstanding lead performance by Adams, Arrival establishes itself as one of the best films of the year and perhaps the most original science fiction film in the past decade.
The film arrives in theaters Friday, November 11.