Based on Ted Chiang’s 1998 novella Story of Your Life, director Denis Villeneuve steps into uncharted territory with his first science fiction feature Arrival.
When twelve enigmatic, extraterrestrial “shells” land on Earth, Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) enlists the help of linguist Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) at the US site in Montana, to determine why the otherworldly visitors have arrived. Arrival deserves to be viewed with unknowing eyes, therefore I won’t be delving into the plot, but the film is taut and unfolds at a pace that will continually hold the audience’s attention. Instead of rushing to a loud and familiar finale, Arrival maintains its tone and its payoff will certainly be at the centre of conversations after the credits roll.
In perhaps the best performance of her career, Adams is the heart and soul of the movie, through her eyes, we unravel the mystery piece by piece (similar to Emily Blunt’s character in Villeneuve’s Sicario). Renner also shines as he steps out of the superhero mould that’s bound him in recent years and while their relationship does take a backseat, the initial spark that sends the pair down their future path together is a brief moment brimming with chemistry.
Chiang’s short story was deemed unadaptable by many, however, screenwriter Eric Heisserer proves countless people wrong as his fluid script manages to be utterly powerful, yet grounded. Arrival is easily the most visually impressive films of the year, with striking cinematography courtesy of Bradford Young. Focussing on the intriguing alien vessels and aliens themselves (their design is incredibly original) but sustaining focus on the human element too, close-ups of faces allowing the unspoken to be read. Fitting of a sci-fi epic, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score will rattle through your bones, conjuring sounds that feel unearthly.
Despite its sci-fi, fantasy narrative, suspension of disbelief won’t be necessary when it comes to Earth’s response to the unfolding dilemma. The parallels between recent political events and the unfolding chaos onscreen are eerily accurate. However, Arrival offers more than just holding up a mirror, it’s a film about hope and perseverance, making it a truly timely release.