Weekly Review: Arrival (2016)

An alien race touches down in 12 different points across the globe, and linguist Louise Banks has been tasked to figure out their language. Why are they here? What is their purpose? Will Louise be able to decipher their message before a war starts?

Arrival is directed by Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners) and stars Amy Adams (Enchanted, American Hustle) and Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Avengers). The film also has Forest Whitaker (Southpaw, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) in a supporting role. Jóhann Jóhannsson supplies the film’s haunting original score, and the screenplay was adapted from Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life by Eric Heisserer (Lights Out).

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The previews that I originally saw for Arrival were very vague, and I definitely think this was a good thing because it kept the mystery that was a key component of the entire film. Many times, trailers show too much, and if this were the case, Arrival wouldn’t have had as great of an impact as it did. I went into Arrival, not fully knowing what I was going to be seeing, and I think that was the best way to see it.

Arrival is an emotionally touching science fiction film. It has a lot of layers to it. It’s got a bit of a slower pacing, and Amy Adams’ performance plays into this extraordinarily well. Adams plays her character in a way that I wish we saw more of in many other films with female characters. Her strength comes from the heart, and she exudes this strength with patience, poise, and a strong determination. I really enjoyed her performance.

I mentioned above that Arrival relies heavily on mystery. In many ways, it reminded me of a foreign film, in the sense that mainstream American cinema doesn’t leave much to the imagination or leave many questions unanswered as long as Arrival does. It’s definitely one of the more thought provoking films that I’ve seen in American theaters for a long time.

There are a lot of talking points that viewers can discuss after watching the film. This can range from the subtext, to the ramifications, to the decisions Louise makes. I’ve seen a lot of discussion about a particular message that went without translation in the film. It’s difficult to go into much detail about any of these things without disrupting the mystery for those who haven’t seen it. The story is intricately woven together as a series of reveals. Giving away any plot points would ruin those reveals.

From a cinematic standpoint, Arrival is very well done. The music was very good. I’ve grown to really appreciate Jóhannsson’s work recently. His work is quite reminiscent of Hans Zimmer in many ways, and Zimmer is one of my favorite composers. The cinematography is very artistic. At times, I felt it was so artistic that it was distracting, but it was beautiful either way. The colors within the film are very bleak for the most part, and I felt that this was quite creative when juxtaposed with the story at certain points.

Overall, Arrival is just an incredibly thoughtful piece of science fiction that I would definitely recommend. Even as I wrote this review of it, I found myself being much more contemplative than usual. It’s not too deep in what it tries to convey, but the story masterfully blends these poetic moments with sophisticated thrills. There’s just something about it that stands apart from other films released this year.

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