I eventually caught up with Arrival tonight, one of the most critically acclaimed films of last year, and one that’s tipped for more than a few Oscars. Personally, I’d be surprised if it did receive Academy glory (sci-fi films tend not to be rewarded in such ways), but that’s no reflection on its quality.
Amy Adams plays a linguist, Louise Banks, who is lecturing at a university when Earth is thrown into chaos when 12 alien spacecraft appear across the globe. Louise is asked to be part of a team to translate their language and to discover why they’ve come to Earth. Along with physicist Ian Donnelly (played by Jeremy Renner) and US Army officer GT Weber (Forest Whittaker), Louise has to decipher what the new vistors are saying, before the superpowers on Earth lose their nerve and attack them.
I’ve seen a few people online complaining that Arrival is “boring” and “nothing really happens”. While this is certainly a cerebral film that shuns explosions and violence for character and plot, I’m a bit a bit of a loss to understand that criticism. Eric Heisserer’s screenplay is witty, dropping in random mentions of Sheena Easton and Abbott & Costello, and director Denis Villenueve ramps up the tension expertly towards the end of the film. I hesitate to even mention the ‘twist’ in the film, as that means some people will go in looking for it, but when the reveal (with a massive big nod to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five) is dropped, it’s ingenious.
Amy Adams is excellent as Louise, the every-woman thrown into a bizarre situation and striving to understand it as best as she can. Adams is such an expressive actor (just a glance with her eyes can reveal so much about her character) and there’s a world-weariness about her here that marks Arrival as one of the best performances of her career. Renner and Whittaker are their usual solidly reliable selves as well, while Villenueve delivers on the promise he showed on Prisoners and Sicario. He’s helming the upcoming Bladerunner sequel, and on this evidence, that’s something to be very excited about indeed.
While this isn’t particularly an effects-driven movie, the aliens themselves are beautifully, abstractly realised, although the multiple wiggly arms and squirty black ink do render them more reminiscent of octopus than anything else. So, while there occasions where Arrival threatens to descend into silliness, it remains a beautifully told, pleasingly thoughtful sci-fi film.