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Arrival – film review

November 18, 2016

ARRIVAL

Serious-minded sci-fi turns existential mind-bender.

Reviewed on Thursday 10th November 2016

arrival-2016

Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Screenplay by Eric Heisserer, based on the story ‘Story of Your Life’ by Ted Chiang. Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and     Forest Whitaker. Running time: 116 mins.

Linguist Louise Banks is recruited by the US government to decipher the language of newly-arrived extraterrestrials and thus learn their purpose here on Earth. It is her own memories of personal loss which hold the key to avoiding hostilities with the aliens.

It’s going to be a challenge writing about this film without giving too much away, but I’ll do my best to not to get into spoilers. Undoubtedly one of the most intriguing indie sci-fi films of the last few years, they’re calling Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival this generation’s Close Encounters, but it’s actually closer in tone to Contact – set against the re-ignited Cold War tensions of The Abyss. From the opening moments where barely-glimpsed media reports and choice sound bites gradually reveal the titular arrival, we are immediately drawn into this unfolding mystery and our investment in the outcome is effortlessly maintained throughout. Make no mistake, this is serious-minded sci-fi and about as far away as one can get from recent studio fare such as Independence Day: Resurgence. Based on Ted Chiang’s award-winning 1998 novella ‘Story of Your Life’, the beautifully-crafted screenplay by Eric Heisserer explores multiple concepts; the main one being something called linguistic relativity; a concept which posits that the structure of a language affects its speakers’ cognition and world view. In other words, its the idea that immersing oneself in learning a new language has the effect of re-wiring ones’ own brain so that one will begin thinking differently. As the aliens’ perception of time is non-linear, Louise begins to develop     an ability to ‘relive’ the future; a skill which may, if she chooses to use it, divert the world away from nuclear conflict; as escalating tensions with China (who interpret the aliens’ intent as hostile) provide a backdrop of impending doom.

The bulk of the film takes place at a US military base; with cutaways to media reports describing the world’s reaction to the arrival of the aliens. The deliberate downsizing of the scope of the film creates a sense of intimacy with the characters so we are focused on their reactions to the unfolding mystery. As Arrival is told entirely from Louise’s point of view, Amy Adams is on screen virtually the entire time – and her performance here is one of her best so far. Also very good is Jeremy Renner as Louise’s colleague and potential love interest, Ian Donelly.

Jóhann Jóhannsson’s dread-laden score is hugely effective in generating unease during Louise’s initial foray into the alien ship, while my only real issue with the film     is a purely aesthetic one as Villeneuve’s use of shallow focus, while thematically appropriate (being a visual representation of the idea of grasping at answers which     are just out of reach) – can be a little distracting at times.

Featuring heady concepts, a compelling surprise-filled narrative and a terrific central performance from Amy Adams, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is a real treat for lovers of serious-minded sci-fi and those who enjoy thinking about the film they’ve just seen     for days after.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Megaplex Marion, Adelaide, November 10th 2016.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

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6 Comments
  1. Great review! So glad you approve of this film (as you’re an expert on this type of thing). I absolutely loved it! This is what I wanted Interstellar to be but was left thoroughly disappointed. It’s a definite “think about it for days afterwards” film & I was surprised at how moving the story actually was. Wish they’d make stuff like this more often. : )

    • gregory moss permalink

      Thanks! Yeah, this and Travis Milloy’s SOMNIO are definitely in a class of their own and, for me, the stand-out sci-fi films of the year.

  2. Nice review Greg. Good to see you back. Arrival is a great film, likely my fave of 2016. Feels like the good old days, a sci fi epic with both brains and heart.

    • gregory moss permalink

      Thanks, Ian! Yeah, it’s good to be back. Glad you think as much of Arrival as I do. Bodes well for BR2 … 🙂

  3. Great review!

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