“If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change things?” – Arrival (Film Review)

Based on some novella, the title of which I can’t be bothered googling right now, Arrival is a sci-fi film that is less inclined with the blowing up of highly recognisable landmarks (Looking at you Independence Day: Resurgence) and is more concerned with blowing… your mind (Pause for effect). The latest film from acclaimed director Denis Villenueve (Famous for Sicario, Prisoners and for having a difficult to pronounce French-Canadian surname) is less about aliens and more about communication through language, images and time.

When twelve U.F.O’s land on Earth scattered across the globe the U.S army turns to Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist, to help them communicate with the visitors in an attempt to ascertain whether the aliens are here as allies or as a threat. Assisting her are astrophysicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker).

Perhaps it’s a little superficial of me to start off by discussing the film’s looks, but I suppose I’m just a shallow bastard. Arrival is a gorgeous looking movie, combining long atmospheric shots of the landscape with intimate conversational scenes in which Villenueve utilises the claustrophobic location in a mesmeric manner. Villenueve can make a scene in which Amy Adams attempts to explain to extra-terrestrials what walking is far more exciting and interesting than, say, watching Liam Hemsworth fly Jeff Goldblum around over a never-ending cascade of CG explosions. Not that I am one to sit on his high horse and despise anything vaguely mainstream for hipster-ish reasons (honest) but it’s a refreshing movie that approaches its subject matter from a unique perspective. Cinematographer Bradford Young fills the screen with evocative shades of grey that swirl over the countryside propelling a sense of wonder and mystery. The design of the aliens is highly original, whilst not being overly stylistic or batshit crazy, and Eric Heisserer’s storytelling keeps the audience invested despite the admittedly slow pace of the film.

That pacing issue may test the patience of some audience members. There is perhaps a little too much time to let the images breath between scenes of action, perhaps there is an awareness that the film’s subject matter is not as easy to comprehend as your regular big budget alien encounter film. It’s also not the most thought melting movie of Villenueve’s career with Enemy and the conflicted character piece Prisoners being more difficult to process, for differing reasons. Arrival’s an intelligent study of language and the complexities of communication and manages to make these not so interesting seeming themes damn interesting, but it’s also not as difficult to follow as it may seem to think it is. Whether this was a producer issue, or a directorial/screenwriter worry that the material might alienate the audience we can only speculate.

Arrival is a conceptual wonder, of both visual splendidness and damn fine storytelling, and despite some cosmetic issues surrounding its presentation of an admittedly complex narrative it remains a technical marvel with a game cast, led by the fantastic Amy Adams, and one of the most exciting directors working today at the helm. I’d recommend you adjust your expectations accordingly, get to a nearby cinema and check this one out.


Dir: Denis Villenueve

Scr: Eric Heisserer

Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma

Prd: Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder, David Linde

DOP: Bradford Young

Music: Johann Johannsson

Country: USA

Year: 2016

Run time: 116 mins

Arrival is out now in UK cinemas


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