In one of the more original Alien invasion films to grace the silver screen in some time, Arrival captures a different approach to the human reaction. It may come as a surprise to many that it’s not a “blow ‘em up and kill ‘em” movie. It shows a side of humanity that can actually make educated decisions and show our out-of-space friends, human kind aren’t a bad lot. But for those that are expecting a “blow ‘em up and kill ‘em” movie, they do try.
The movie opens with a beautiful score, which happens to bookend the film and a montage of the tragic story of the death of the daughter to Linguist Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams. We meet Banks again as she gives her University lecturer on language when she is interrupted by her students as the invasion of the aliens come to Earth. Adams conveniently happens to be on the books for the US Army and is recruited by Colonel Weber played by Forest Whitaker once more to help communicate with the Aliens. Working alongside Banks is Physicist Ian Donnelly played by Jeremy Renner, they manage to win over the aliens trust and learn a whole lot about the Aliens or Heptapod’s nicknamed Abbott and Costello.
Arrival is a beautiful look at language and how limited the human brain can be when it isn’t challenged or trained. Throughout the film there are incites to the English language from Bank’s daughters name, Hannah which is a palindrome. If you scroll the Internet long enough you will find other connections to the English language. Such as the shape of the spacecraft being that of a comma or hyphen. The film also has this beautiful connection to things that don’t have a start of finish, which happens to be the way the Heptapod’s write in their language.
Arrival is based on Ted Chiang’s book “Stories of Your Life and Others”. It took a number of years to adapt the book and sell it to the studio before Director Denis Villeneuve came on board. Villeneuve’s previous directorial work isn’t extensive to the main screen, his most popular work is Prisoners which starred Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal and Sicario with Emily Blunt. Arrival doesn’t shy from Villeneuve’s typical style who gives you only just enough information so you are on the quest the same as the main character which paves the way for the final twist at the ending. He also manages to demand emotion through the reality of his work, which in the most part is death or violence of some kind. In Arrival he manages to capture this with the death of Bank’s daughter Hannah and the immediate connection to her.
Leading the story is Amy Adams who is maybe best known for her work in Batman v Superman, American Hustle, Her and Julie and Julia. Adams has come a long way in her career and you can see a great deal of strength in her ability since her earlier career which hasn’t gained a great deal of recognition. While Adams still has a long way to go this could be her year for an Oscar after having missed out the last 5 times. Adams plays a lost soul who finds direction in the Heptapod’s visit to Earth. She finds a way to hold a mostly blank face throughout the film that gives you a sense that there is always something else going on in the back of her mind. And it isn’t until the final scenes we realise that this is exactly what is going on. It is fair to say that while there is a long way for Adams to master her art, this is possibly her best performance so far.
Alongside Adams is action man, Jeremy Renner known for his roles in Marvel’s Avengers films, American Hustle and the Born Legacy. While Renner is a bankable actor, he has mastered the art of being the action hero. Watching him play a nerdy Physcist doesn’t quite come across, as you would believe. Renner brings a slight comedy delivery to his lines which adds a nice touch to an otherwise serious and at times visually and scripted intensity.
Visually the film is spectacular, as most space-orientated films tend to be with the available technology to film. The spaceship, which the Heptapod’s are in, is nothing like what you have seen in alien films before. So much detail has gone into the creation of the aliens and their craft that there is no point you pull yourself out of the moment and think about it. The one moment that you do is when Amy Adam’s character is taken into the spacecraft and is bouncing around in a different gravity. She looks so unrealistic that you remember that it’s just a film you are watching.
Overall this is a beautiful and different take on an alien invasion film. It challenges how this genre has to be perceived. If you can get your head around the subject and take it all in, this film offers a lot in the way of social commentary and the language lesson. It manages to show a great deal of differences on how the advanced alien race and human race have come to live their lives and what would be the better. In addition to the stunning visuals is the beautiful score which complements each other perfectly. And with only one explosion, it’s still a film for everyone not just your “blow ‘em up and kill ‘em” fans.
Review by Jay Cook