Review by J.T. Johnson
DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Bradford Young
WRITER: Eric Heisserer
MUSIC: Jóhann Jóhannsson
If any movie deserves the award for Most Surprising this year, it is Paramount Pictures’ latest offering, “Arrival”. The movie was already starting to make waves with critics before its wide release and the word of mouth stated that it was a genuinely great film experience. Now that I’ve finally had a chance to see the movie, I can completely agree with that assessment.
The story behind “Arrival” is deceptively simple at first. Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is called in after twelve alien ships mysteriously appear on Earth. Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) explains that scientists from around the world have been trying to find ways to communicate with the lifeforms onboard.
Louise joins a scientist named Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) as they begin to decipher the mysterious language of the Heptapods, the name they have given the aliens. Louise begins to crack how their language works while nations such as China are getting tense without knowing what the Heptapods’ true motives are for Earth. She also begins to experience visions of her memories that are a key to solving the mystery behind the newfound aliens.
The first thing to note about this movie are the performances. Adams is absolutely fantastic as Louise and considering that this movie is largely a piece surrounding her character, she has to carry the heavy lifting for the most part. Thankfully, she makes acting look easy and we are with her when she is struggling and when she is making a breakthrough.
Renner’s Ian is also a great character that you’re not too sure of in the beginning. Sure he’s there as the scientist who has to try to figure out the Heptapods’ level of knowledge, but thankfully he ends up playing a much bigger role than the story initially suggests. He is a great supporting character for Louise and another character that we find ourselves caring for by the end.
Then there is the fact that this movie is not about trying to destroy the aliens. Sure, there is a panic from some of the characters such as nervous military soldiers and other nations but that is refreshingly secondary to the main mystery of why the aliens are even here. For the most part, the characters are level headed and not represented as generic meatheads who just want to shoot first and ask questions later.
I wish that I could say more about the story because it is truly one of the best science fiction films I’ve seen in some time. However, the story’s mystery is a big part of the entire piece and to spoil it here would be a huge disservice to the filmmakers and the audiences.
Like other great sci-fi stories, the movie has its social themes. It is about the power of communication over the power of the gun. It is about opening up rather than shutting down due to anger and the fear of the unknown. It is about the fact that we sometimes have to make a seemingly impossible and potentially tragic choice to do what is ultimately right.
These are powerful messages that we need now more than ever and the movie delivers these messages beautifully. Having been a huge fan of sci-fi films for most of my life, they rarely ever surprise me anymore. “Arrival” is one of the true exceptions. Even if you are not a fan of sci-fi, I request that you see this movie at least once because I think that you will fall in love with it almost as much as I did.