Arrival is a typical Denis Villeneuve film. Ten minutes into it and I was having a similar kind of feeling that I had watching his earlier films like Enemy, Prisoners and Sicario. This is a film that is really deep and a stark departure from what we expect of films of the alien invasion genre. It’s not a crowd-pleaser but a definitive film of the genre that will take multiple views to crack its thematic contents. It also messes with your mind at multiple junctures. It is tense and gritty and doesn’t reveal its cards until the very end. Essentially, it has a very simplistic story to tell but the manner in which it is presented really complicates the interpretation or should I say that the way in which we interpret it complicates our version of the story. That is what I loved about this film in particular.
The film starts off with introducing us to Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a languages expert, whose daughter is diagnosed with a fatal disease that ultimately kills her. This we see through a series of flashbacks wherein we see her daughter’s life from birth till her death in quick succession. Banks is back at work soon enough but then the unthinkable happens. Twelve alien ships arrive on different parts of the earth with one of them arriving at Montana. Banks is recruited by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to help decode the language of the aliens and try to understand what brings them to earth. She has help from a professor Ian (Jeremy Renner). As she dwells deeper and deeper into the Alien language, she herself starts having visions of her daughter that unsettles her. But as she gets closer and closer to her evident past, she also starts understanding the aliens better.
Arrival is an extremely good looking film. The cinematography is brilliant. It’s not a surprise since every Denis Villeneuve film till date has been extremely well shot. I was mesmerized to see the epic long takes taken to show us the alien ship for the first time. Even the scenes shot inside the claustrophobic innards of the defense settlement is lit and captured with vitality. The alien ship is mysterious. While very little is revealed about it, it is captured in a manner that keeps the viewers intrigued and also transposes a feeling of wow! The flashbacks are also captured in a manner that is a stark departure from the current time and gives you the kind of surreal feel that it should.
I took special note of the sound design. It was breathtaking. I was especially taken in by the sound design of the sequences involving the humans and their interaction with the aliens. The belching noises that they made were a nice touch. Even though the background score was kept to a bare minimum, it was effective wherever it was used. The climax of this film had a very similar vibe to another film that dealt with some out of the world theory; Interstellar. Even though the content or the proceedings here and in Interstellar had no common factors, the manner in which the story unfolds and the way the shots are cut together and the pacing of it felt very similar. Even the background score gave a faint feeling of resemblance.
Coming to the performances, this is an Amy Adams film. The other don’t stand a chance in front of her and it’s not because they did poorly but because her character is written in a manner that gives her the most screen time, the most meat in terms of drama and character conflicts and because she single-handedly solves the puzzle that this film is. Adams doesn’t disappoint. She has proved over the years that she is a very bankable actress and she proves herself once again in this very challenging role. Her mannerism was a key factor on which the plot of the film banked. If she didn’t get the feel of the character spot on, the rest of the narrative would have easily crumbled. She does an exceedingly good job in sustaining her character and its many nuances.Jeremy Renner somewhat sleepwalks through his role. His character is not at all fleshed out and that I believe is one of the flaws of the film. Forest Whitaker has a small but significant role and he does his bit well.
As far as the flaws are concerned, I have just a few issues with the film. I felt that the climax was hurried and it just took too many liberties for my liking. Also sans Amy Adams’ character, the rest of the characters in the film were somewhat laid back. The pacing of the film could also be a problem with many as it moves really slow. However since I was so very engrossed in the proceedings and the beauty on display, I didn’t feel a thing about the runtime and how little was happening in that time. Last but not the least, the big revelation of the aliens actual reason for the visit is somewhat unsatisfactory and it is laid out in a manner that may again feel hurried and forced.
Overall, Arrival is a brilliant film sans a few hiccups in the end. It looks pretty. It is thought-provoking and it has something different to offer. It’s the kind of film that can be watched a number of times for varied reasons. Villeneuve has created an interesting film that may not be as good as Prisoners or Sicario but still merits multiple views for its content, style, visuals and an uncanny story.
Rating: 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)