The release of Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is profoundly well-timed. This is a film that preaches the importance of communication and diplomacy, of not greeting the unfamiliar with fear and violence. This may be a film featuring behemoth alien spacecraft but don’t go expecting thrills; this movie is as slow-paced and reflective as science-fiction gets these days, and it’s near-perfect. Villeneuve has delivered a masterwork of great empathy, in turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, with mysteries and twists that reveal themselves gently and profoundly. Villeneuve does not make a wrong decision, making a about the global response to first contact with extraterrestrials that focuses upon the personal.
Twelve alien spacecraft appear, hovering seemingly random locations across the globe what they are doing and what they intend to do are a mystery. Louise Banks (a superb Amy Adams), a linguist mourning the death of her daughter and departure of her husband, is selected to make contact with the extraterrestrial beings, backed up by theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner, also great). Much of the film covers Louise’s efforts to begin understanding the beings’ language, communicated via an inky liquid that issues from their cephalopod-like tentacles. Villeneuve and writer Eric Heisserer are sure to emphasize just how slow-moving and arduous the process of learning a language foreign to anybody on the planet would be without losing interest or allowing the film to drag. Time is factor though; Louise and Ian must discover the aliens’ purpose, which they assume is a peaceful one, before any of the world’s more hawkish elements take military action against them. The multitudes who question the aliens’ motives are represented by a Chinese General (Tzi Ma) and a cynical CIA Agent (Michael Stuhlbarg), neither of whom are ever reduced to mere villainy or buffoonery, but rather as understandably doubtful that these mysterious visitors’ intentions are entirely above-boards.
To say anymore about Arrival would be to give away its secrets. Suffice it to say that it is excellent. Brilliantly performed by the actors, most notably Adams, Renner, and Forest Whitaker, playing a no-nonsense military liaison. It’s beautifully photographed by DP Bradford Young, and while this is not a special-effects picture, the special effects really sing; the spacecraft and its inhabitants have a weighty tangibility that is not flashy but is never less than convincing. It’s a convincing movie, from top to bottom it feels absolutely authentic. If there was any remaining doubt about Villeneuve’s mastery of his craft, Arrival should put those doubts to rest. This is a masterpiece.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Producer: Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder, David Linde
Writer: Eric Heisserer
Cinematographer: Bradford Young
Editor: Joe Walker
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma