Not to be confused with any of the films named The Arrival (a whole group of films, none of which are of any particular noteworthiness), Arrival is a new film from the director of last year’s Sicario, Denis Villeneuve, and with a screenplay written by Eric Heisserer who is known mainly for remakes and horror films previous to this, notably the excellent Lights Out earlier this year, and all based upon a story written by Ted Chiang called “Story of Your Life”. These names are all important, not just because they are the people primarily responsible for giving us an absolutely fantastic and profound work of art, but also because you will be hearing them again come a few months during movie awards season, most likely.
Arrival stars the nearly always amazing Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, a professor of linguistics and part time translator for the U.S. Military. Her class is interrupted one day by the announcement that twelve alien ships have set down over 12 different parts of the globe, then her entire life is interrupted when Colonel Weber, played by Forest Whitaker, shows up at her office to take her to the Montana landing site so she can try to communicate with the aliens. These two along with scientist (of unknown specialization) Ian Donnelly, played by Jeremy Renner, are the focus of the film’s plot which revolves around sorting out why the aliens are here, how they communicate, and why they sent twelve ships to twelve different places.
There is so much good to say about the movie, let’s start with the bad, or in this case the only okay, because that can be gotten out of the way rather quickly. While the camera work in this film is very good, and at times downright artistic, the art direction otherwise is quite bland. There is next to nothing to the alien craft, the army base, the college, nearly every location in this film is bland and uninteresting. This could be a budgetary concern, or perhaps a choice to focus more on the characters and the plot rather than on what is surrounding them, but whatever the reason it really can be an ugly film to look at.
The second, and only, other real flaw is that Arrival’s pace tends to be a very slow one. Again, this is probably a conscious choice as this is a very cerebral movie focused on theme, dialogue, and character rather than on action, but if you were looking for pure entertainment or were thinking this would be more of an alien invasion type film then there is a good chance you will be bored, at least until the fantastic story starts dragging you in despite yourself.
If neither of those factors are deal breakers for you, though, then you are in for one hell of a treat. Arrival is a film that had me openly crying within the first five minutes, fascinated me intellectually for nearly the entire running time, and had me utterly flabbergasted in the best way possible once I understood the aliens’, and therefore the film’s, ultimate message. It was presented perfectly, every bit of the theme was also tied to the major plot points, so that it was revealed to you piece by piece and you actually learn and discover the lesson rather than having it spoon fed to you. This is not new, a great many of the best movies accomplish this, which would be what makes them the best movies, but what is new is the way the entire lesson is wrapped up with the teaching of linguistics and the difference between learning a language and really understanding how we communicate, which while not the ultimate message of the film isn’t a bad theme at all in its own right.
Arrival is a must see film for all but the most anti-intellectual of us out there, the type who normally wouldn’t read a movie review, so if you are reading this then I say you absolutely must catch this one as soon as possible. When leaving the theater after Arrival, I honestly felt like a slightly different person than the one who walked in. I felt I knew more about the world around me, but more importantly was more aware of how much more I needed to learn. People complain that there are too many remakes, reboots, stupid action films, and mindless entertainment films out there today, so it would be a tragedy to not let Hollywood know that Arrival is exactly the kind of movie we need more of, one that is intellectual, profound, and transformational.
Rating: 8.6 out of 10