Film Review: “Arrival” delivers a familiar sci-fi narrative in enlivening fashion
Arrival marks French Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve’s grand entrance into the world of science fiction, consolidating his position as one of the most eclectic and consistent filmmakers of a generation. Villeneuve’s uncanny ability to craft such alluring and indelible worlds (refer to Prisoners and Sicario as leading examples) truly shines through here, with a piece of cinema that is both entertaining as it is enlightening.
Gifting its audience with a nuanced portrayal of a hypothetical ‘first contact’, Arrival breathes life into a seemingly familiar tale. Although thematically at first its subject matter appears resoundingly unimaginative and overdone, the execution of this contemporary sci-fi cinematic is anything but.
After humanity is abruptly informed about twelve giant space crafts that have decisively dispersed themselves across the globe, expert linguist Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is tracked down for her highly revered skillset to elucidate the complex situation. Elected as the head interplanetary translator of a special team created to enter one of the “shells” residing in Montana USA, Banks wrestles with some particularly novel language barriers, as well as her own personal fears and frustrations.
Amy Adams delivers an immensely compelling performance, emanating a visceral emotionality that maintains a sense of subtlety in its own right. Adams exhibits an understated yet palpable vulnerability throughout the course of the feature, impelling viewers to participate in the volatility and exhaustion right alongside her.
Deciphering the alien’s symbology, which strongly resembles stylised coffee mug stains, Dr Banks’ deeply rooted moral compass convinces her that their message does not denote that of an impending cataclysm, but is in fact indicative of a peaceful catalyst of sorts. Resting on these hopeful convictions, so begins Banks’ chase to dismantle a rapidly evolving zeitgeist amongst an incredulous and increasingly anxious earth populous.
Gracefully aided by prolonged wide pans across striking vistas, as well as ambitious camera angles that are equally provocative as they are enticing, Arrival expertly conveys a sustained sense of wonder and anticipation throughout the film’s entirety. Although with appropriate attentiveness this piece of cinema is certainly logically sound, and there’s no doubt that the spirit of the film does not benefit from being overly intellectualised by its viewers. Conjuring up a more poetic and contemplative tone, Arrival projects a kind of emotionally transcendental quality that is regrettably scarce within the film industry.
Arrival’s greatest accomplishment is that it manages to evoke a legitimate sense of realism within its audience, despite its seemingly outlandish prospective nature in the real world. Ultimately at the film’s heart lies a confronting but enormously important observation regarding the enduringly archaic divisiveness amongst humanity. The movie doesn’t intend to engender guilt or despondency, however, but instead aims to embolden its audience through the sacred qualities of gentle provocation and illumination.