Arrival Review

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By Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)

As long as there has been humanoid life on the Earth, there has likely been a fear of the unknown. Imagine, the first person to ever see a sunset probably thought, “Welp, this can’t be good.” Turns out they were wrong. Yet the fear remains real. Today, with our technology and advanced sciences, we know so much more about the world, the universe, and how things work. Currently, our fears may include our global resources, fears of terror attacks, the fact that Donald Trump is actually going to be the face and voice of the United States, and what happens when we finally do make contact with people outside of our universe. Director Denis Villeneueve (Sicario) tackles the later subject with his new film, Arrival.

Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a languages professor who also happens to be one of the top linguistics experts in the world. She goes through the motions each day after losing her husband and the death of her only daughter to cancer. During one of her lectures, she and her class observe the arrival of 12 identical alien vessels at random points around the world. With no one knowing where the aliens came from or what they want, the world is at a standstill with whether this is an act of war or something else. Because of her previous work decoding messages for the government, she has upper level military clearance and is recruited – along with theoretical mathematician, Dr. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) – by Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to decipher the few sounds they have received of the alien language. However, knowing that language is the cornerstone of civilization, Louise must find a way to generate communication through words and begin to understand the alien’s vocabulary before the rest of the world takes steps which may lead to war and, quite possibly, the end of humanity. Will Louise and Ian break the language barrier, or will global tensions fuel and ignite an intergalactic war before time is up? The world clock is ticking…

Amy Adams as Louise Banks in ARRIVAL by Paramount Pictures

If you’ve seen Sicario or Prisoners, then you know what Villeneueve is capable of, and he undoubtedly delivers here. Arrival isn’t an action film, it is not a real adventure film, it is not melodramatic; what this film is about is life, humanity, and a real reflection of our world and what may come. Based on the story by Ted Chiang, Villeneueve takes us step by step as Louise experiences the encounter. From her arrival in Montana, to a debriefing, gearing up to travel to the alien vessel, the ride there, and the ascension to the vessels opening – which happens once every 18 hours – we are taken through it in almost real time, building that sense of wonder and awe through the almost point-of-view type of storytelling for a good portion of the film. We do not see the alien vessel until Louise looks upon it with her own eyes for the first time, and we do not see the alien creatures until Louise does as well. I won’t spoil what the aliens look like, how they communicate, what the inside of the ships entail, or what they came to Earth for; that’s something you’ll have to experience on your own. Yet it is this creativity, this type of magic and aura that surrounds these encounters that takes the film to a whole new level. This genre of film has been approached in so many ways in the past, but this what a great director can do: he can make it come alive with new life, feel entirely fresh, and bring a truly unique experience to you, the viewer.

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Amy Adams is the heart and soul of the film. She has been acting for over 17 years, and she’s had five Oscar nominations for Best Actress in that time, having played roles from quirky to serious, yet this may be one of her more psychologically complex roles to date. When it comes to Louise, the story deceives us from early on, yet that deception isn’t understood until the final act of the film, to which Adams takes us along for the ride throughout the entire process. Her character is strong and independent, a professional and the top of her field, yet her hands tremble and she is nervous and scared. She deals with not only the weight of the world on her shoulders, but the past that she cannot yet overcome and move on from. Renner is more of a sidekick to Adams, and his specialty really isn’t fully understood until he has one of those “AH HA!” moments late in the film, helping put it all together. Whitaker is also another support role to Adams, being the voice of the military who has superiors who want answers, but understanding what Adams’ character is doing takes time.

Some people may feel that Arrival may drag at certain moments, and those same people probably want more action or something to further entertain them. Yet this isn’t a film like War of the Worlds, this is one of discovery and making first contact, understanding other beings, and understanding ourselves. Considering what recently happened with our own electoral process, a film of this nature is very much needed today. Adams is brilliant, and arguably deserves another Academy Award nomination for her performance, but there are few misfires over the course of the film. It may not be 100% flawless, but Arrival is one of the better films of 2016.

Forest Whitaker as Col. Weber in ARRIVAL by Paramount Pictures

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


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