Spoiler-Free Film Review – Arrival (2016); an intelligent, enthralling and deeply human science fiction film
Last night saw the UK premiere of Arrival during the London Film Festival, which will prove to be another festival highlight for me. I’ll start by saying I’m going to be careful what I write in this review, as this really is a film that you should watch unspoilt. Part of its brilliance is in not knowing what lies ahead. Are you intrigued enough? I certainly hope so and enough to keep yourself spoiler-free until you see it.
Arrival is adapted by Eric Heisserer from the Ted Chiang short story Story of your Life and the new film from director Denis Villeneuve (whose previous work includes Sicario and Prisoners) and who is currently at work on another sci-fi film – Blade Runner 2049. If this movie is any indication, the Blade Runner legacy is certainly in strong hands!
On a day as normal as any other, the world comes to a standstill when 12 huge spacecraft materialise around the globe. With no attempt at contact, fear of the unknown takes hold, as the UN seeks to bring the nations of Earth together to try and communicate with whoever is aboard in order to understand why they have arrived.
One such craft has appeared in the USA (in Montana to be precise) and the government and military set about bringing the finest scientific and linguistic minds together, which is how we meet Louise Banks (Amy Adams), whose reputation and previous linguistic assistance to the military has Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) recruiting her to the team. Combined with mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), they must try and determine the aliens’ purpose. However, as time moves on, the willingness of nations to work together comes under strain, which in turn threatens to damage any progress that’s been made, leaving Banks to use all her skill to try and make a breakthrough before it’s too late.
Arrival is not your typical science fiction movie. It is not another Independence Day-style action adventure and I’m very pleased about that. Instead, Arrival is an incredibly intelligent film, which happens to involve aliens, but is actually all about humanity; the need to pull together as a world rather than splinter and to communicate with those you may not understand in order to learn about yourself as well as them. Never has a film of this genre had so much depth and the unexpected path it takes later on, genuinely made me gasp, as I saw the whole film from a new perspective and realised what a clever and surprisingly, profoundly emotional story it is.
On top of such a superbly crafted script and story, Arrival is blessed to have such a talented actress in its lead role. Amy Adams is wonderful as Louise Banks, a woman who seems a little removed from those around her when we meet her, but who has a strength of character that you cannot help but admire. Her story is the axis around which the whole film spins and the further through the story you go, the more emotionally connected you are to her. Another Oscar nomination seems guaranteed and is very much deserved.
There is also strong support from Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber, caught between the team at the craft and external government pressures, forcing his hand and also Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly, whose scientific mind perfectly balances with Banks’s, to form a strong team. He and Adams have a chemistry which is believable and a pleasure to watch.
Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score also provides a haunting and eerie soundscape that fits the mood and tone of Arrival perfectly, enhancing the tension as the team take the first tentative steps aboard the craft, but also drawing out the beautifully emotional beats of the film as well. It is also a visually stunning film thanks to the work of cinematographer Bradford Young.
I had no idea what I’d think about Arrival before attending the screening and on watching it I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you don’t normally watch sci-fi films, then don’t let the premise put you off, as Arrival is so much more than a lazy genre label. It is smart, enthralling, thought-provoking and incredibly satisfying on an emotional level. I guarantee you will not be able to stop thinking about it once you’ve seen it. It’s general release can’t come quickly enough so I can talk about it with people!
Arrival arrives in UK cinemas on 11th November 2016. Watch the teaser trailer here (it gives far less away than the full trailer): https://youtu.be/AbHGLYLbQFI