Monday, November 14, 2016

[Review] Arrival

Where did they come from? Why are they here? What do they want?

Arrival director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) expounds on these questions in this brainy, urgent, and deeply emotional UFO visit drama that instills hope in the good of humanity.

Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a linguistics professor, reeling from losing her daughter to cancer. Louise's world (and the rest of the world) shifts even more when a dozen extraterrestrial spacecraft touch down across the Earth. Given Louise's renowned skills in language, she's abruptly recruited in an attempt to communicate face-to-face with the aliens. Whoa, right? Along for the mission are a US Army Colonel (played by Forest Whitaker) and a theoretical physicist (Jeremy Renner).

Don't go into this film expecting the explosions of Independence Day, the horrors of Alien, or the sweetness of E.T. Instead, Villeneuve opts for a tone of hushed chaos and hypothetical realism, administering heady concepts of language, science, perception, and time. How does one even process, let alone approach first contact with beings from outer space? (They're classified as "Heptapods" here.) It's complicated, to say the least. But impossibly intriguing.

Villeneuve and buzzing cinematographer Bradford Young capture it all with expansive shots of grandeur, as well as more focused and minimal views through a Terrence Malick-esque lens. The stunning sets defy what we usually come to anticipate in alien invasion flicks. Rather than blinking flying saucers, the spaceships appear to be more like bold, colossal, vertically crescent eggs. The Heptapods convey their complex messages with gloriously cinematic ink blots from the other side of a bright and smoky wall of glass that seems to be specifically designed for a big, wide movie theater screen. The film is cut with beautifully intimate flashbacks of interactions between Louise and her daughter, contrasting the brooding greyscale of the military bases, alien craft, and ominous skies.

Amy Adams delivers an excellent performance that will be a surefire land for an Oscar nomination, if not a win. She convincingly captures the distress and awe of how someone might react when coming face-to-face with strange and unpredictable extraterrestrial creatures. There's a significant bravery and determination there, especially when everyone around her (mostly men) questions her methods and threatens to derail her careful strategies. Jeremy Renner is solidly cast too, functioning as form of comic relief within the serious, solemn tone. He names the Heptapods "Abbott & Costello", whom, by the way, kind of look like more monstrous versions of the Kang and Kodos from The Simpsons.

As Jóhann Jóhannsson's stirring musical score crescendos, the film unfurls a remarkable revelation. Like the best twists, it rattles your mind, pierces your heart, and makes you rethink the entire story while begging for a second viewing (and possibly crying). The narrative also explores some relevant and important themes regarding patience and understanding, as opposed to forceful conflict.

I truly believe that this operation deserves to be mentioned as one of the best sci-fi films of the decade. Arrival is out of this world. Literally.

* 10/10 *

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  1. OMG. 10/10? Now I'm really watching this.

  2. Villeneuve has impressed me in the past, I have to wait until Dec for Arrival. Seems to be receiving a lot of praise! I imagine will be high on your year-end list.

    1. Big fan of all his work. And yes, it's definitely gonna be high on my list. I hope you like it too.