Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Amy Addams, Jeremy Renner, Forrest Whittaker
Review Author: Tony
Recently I’ve had the good fortune of catching up on some of the films I’ve missed earlier this year. Many have vastly changed my opinion of this years film quality. I’ve certainly made my opinion clear that the majority of releases this year have been dull and lifeless making the task of seeing as many film releases this year a real slog. Arrival has just been the icing on the cake of a fantastic week of viewings.
Starting with Gravity in 2012, every year since has seen the release of a Science fiction epic from an established director which has a hard emphasis on the Science. 2014 had Interstellar and last year was Ridley Scott’s, The Martian. This year Denis Villeneuve has continued that trend with Arrival. Following last year’s masterpiece, Sicario, Villeneuve raised the bar exceptionally high for himself, but delving into his previous films shows that this extraordinary director has consistently crafted attentive, compelling films.
Humanity finds the age-old question of “Are we alone in the universe” suddenly answered when twelve mysterious extraterrestrial ships appear at random locations on the Earth. Thankfully the military powers of the world decide to start a dialogue with these distant travelers rather than shoot first. Linguist Dr. Louis Banks (Amy Addams) is recruited alongside theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) by Colonel Weber (Forrest Whittaker) to make contact with one of the ships. Louise and Ian are instructed to find out the answer to two questions 1) why are they here and 2) what do they want. However, they soon find themselves short on time as the world begins to tear itself apart through fear and panic.
Sicario had some amazing shots thanks to Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins, from the nauseating birds eye view of Juarez to that stunning shot of the Marines fading into the sundown. Arrival has some of the best cinematography I’ve seen all year as Villeneuve works alongside Deakins replacement Bradford Young who impressed the hell out of me with A Most Violent Year. It’s Jóhann Jóhannsson’s spectacular score which accentuates the film’s most breathtaking shots as scenes like the Alien ship sitting among a river on mist flowing over mountains had me picking my jaw up off the floor. Jóhannsson evokes both tension and uncertainty trough a haunting track as Louise and Ian first enter the Ship, but later as the characters begin to communicate with the extraterrestrial beings the score has a more playful adventurous tone to it.
Arrival is an intelligent film that both challenges the viewer while also extending a helping hand to keep you engaged. As both Louise and Ian are top of their respective fields they both have to break down and explain their methods to Colonel Webber who acts as the audience’s surrogate. While Interstellar also had a heavy dose of science I found I struggled to keep up with it at certain times, thankfully Arrival offers some intellectual dialogue and themes in a comprehensible approach. One of my favourite aspects of the film was how it methodically broke down the language barrier between both species. It’s strange when some of a film’s most exciting scenes are just a conversation.
While Jeremy Renner and Forrest Whittaker are both entertaining and engaging in their roles, they are little more than supporting characters as Amy Addams takes front row and center. Addams is a revelation as a woman bearing the literal weight of the world on her shoulders and also dealing with her own tragedies. With a world falling apart due to uncertainty (a topic which very much mirrors our own current world), Banks must keep a level head as an ambassador of humanity as time is against her. Humanity is another strong theme of the film which both gives glimpses of our pessimistic and optimistic nature.
Arrival is not only Villeneuve’s best film or 2016’s best film it might just be one of the best science fiction films of the last decade. Science Fiction has always been my favourite genre and when it’s handled with this kind of skill and acumen It just warms my heart. The third act of this film floored me, just when I thought I had it figured out it took on a whole new direction that astounded me, it’s an unforgettable moment that will have this film stick with me for years.