It’s this year’s best science-fiction movie with a brain. So alien spaceships have arrived at seemingly random locations on Earth. A linguist specialist (Amy Adams) has to figure out how exactly to communicate with them, and has to do it with the quickness before the patience of military forces expires to the point of them exploring more permanent options. Now Arrival had a lot of steam behind it; it built a strong marketing campaign on its 100% rottentomatoes rating. While that has since subsided to a 93%, this is still one of this year’s very best, and it appeals to me as a critic, a science fiction lover, and just one who simply loves to be told an engrossing story.
And on its surface, it is not all that complex, which makes it is very accessible.
This is not big budget science fiction (a $47 million budget is pocket change by Hollywood standards), and even though this is a polished and great looking film, this is really more of a thinking man’s science fiction piece. Yes, this is about aliens coming to Earth, but the film really sets itself apart by feeling grounded in reality; this seems like how the world would actually react to aliens just randomly showing up one day. There would be a lot of scared people looking to their governments for leadership and direction, and if they weren’t trying to quickly blow us to smithereens a la Independence Day, there would be hesitation and stalling as we try to figure out how to go about opening a dialogue between species, which is where Dr. Louise Banks (Adams) comes into play. Amy Adams turns in some great work here, and it really is her movie to carry. She plays a character that is efficient and competent at what she does, and the fact that she doesn’t simply crumble with so much overwhelming responsibility being placed squarely on her shoulders makes for a compelling character that you can closely follow and root for.
She’s got to find the reason why these space beans came to our planet.
This is not something that I would call slow paced, but it does take its time to set itself up and punctuate the moments that need the extra bit of attention. The mystery of it all keeps you going, and you want to see what the next big discovery moment is going to be, and see if the countries around the globe can simply work together in a time of this much world panic. It’s a great original idea, and while there is a wonder to be had at these foreign beings coming to our planet, what really makes this so standout is the storytelling itself. Not to give anything away, but this plays on the constructs of traditional narrative storytelling, so much so that I am actually really looking forward to the next time I get to watch this. It has a conclusion that changes the way you look at the entire movie, and if you’re looking for a movie that you can wholly invest yourself in its story, this is the one.
Arrival (2016) ****1/2
– Critic for Hire
Want to see where this fell in my list of best films of the 2016? See for yourself here.