Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario, Incendies) has done something extraordinary. Arrival is what had been missing from the 2016 movie year and exactly what was needed, a truly unique and enormously entertaining film. Much more than the average science fiction film, Arrival takes alien encounters very seriously. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner play the roles of acclaimed linguist Louise Banks and physicist Ian Donnelly, who are called upon by the U.S. Army to provide input on the alien visitors and their gravity-defying ship. They are tasked to find out why they came and what they want. As expected, it can be very difficult to communicate with a being that doesn’t speak or think in terms humans can understand, so they have a long and complicated road ahead if them. It’s both intriguing and entertaining to watch the story unfold.
From the get-go, Arrival is unsettling, mostly due to Jóhann Jóhannsson‘s haunting score (listen here). A generally somber mood is crafted right at the beginning with a cryptic monologue by Adams and a series of flashbacks. Most of the movie is dark and shadowy with some exceptional cinematography and sleek production design, both of which Arrival received Oscar nominations for. The acting is superb, with a striking performance by Adams, which was sadly ignored by the Academy.
Much like Villeneuve’s other films, every scene and conversation has a purpose; no screen time is wasted on cheap science fiction thrills like scary aliens or battle sequences. Arrival is as sophisticated as it is unique. There is some action and some intense moments, but overall it would almost classify as a science fiction drama. If you are in the mood for something light à la Independence Day: Resurgence , you will be very disappointed. The characters are in a race against time to solve a puzzle – in this case an alien language – where the consequences of getting it wrong could mean war.
Just shy of 120 minutes, Arrival is a great length and does not take an hour to end once things ramp up (looking at you, Return of the King). It takes you on a complex journey and holds back some key information for a big reveal that will leave you breathless and perhaps even choking back some tears. Some will even think that the movie is over too soon, that there could have been more – more explanations or more conclusions – but in the end, Arrival is as close to perfect as a film can get. Nothing is as it seems, and you’ll probably re-watch it as soon as you can to fully appreciate Villeneuve’s mastery.
The film was released in November 2016 and grossed just short of $200M worldwide.
Arrival was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It ended up walking away with one win for sound editing.
Watch the official trailer here: