dir. Denis Villeneuve
written by: Eric Heisserer
starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forrest Whitaker
3.5 out of 4 stars
Canadian director Denis Villeneuve burst onto the scene with Incendies, a 2010 Foreign Language Oscar nominee surrounding a sibling trip to the Middle East to finish some family business. Since then, the acclaimed director has released a string of critical hits, some controversial, but mostly widely praised. Following up with the Jake Gyllenhaal starring thrillers Prisoners and Enemy and the Emily Blunt cartel heartstopper Sicario, Villeneuve’s progression as a suspense director garnered ample attention. With Arrival, he is breaching new territory
Based on Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life”, we find the world suddenly halted by the first contact with extraterrestrial life. Twelve oblong UFO’s have landed around the planet with no notable order, and the world has panicked trying to determine whether they are friendly or have more probe-y and murdery desires. When determining who can communicate with the peaceful but threatening alien lifeforms, Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is summoned to team with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to answer the ultimate question: “What is your purpose on Earth?”
If you have an issue with tidy conclusions, you may want to approach Arrival with reservations. The mathematical and time theories run deep in the story, and Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer (Lights Out) glide through their uncertain, titillating path. Filled with issues international relations, language barriers, and the desire to go back and get rid of a certain orange pumpkin (maybe that was just my take) drives the characters with a frighteningly pertinent science fiction romp.
Amy Adams has never been better, except for maybe Enchanted, than when under the watchful eye of Villeneuve, with similar up-close touches that made Emily Blunt’s performance in Sicario so touching and personal. Dr Banks’ story begins with tragedy. She has lost her young daughter to a rare disease, and the weight of that loss has taken exceptional toll. Her eyes are sullen, even when her mind is filled with her new challenge. No step in the sometimes baffling, always engaging story is lost to the actress.
Sci-fi is a well appreciated genre easy to derail with convoluted backstory or an overabundance of special effects that lack any meaning. Villeneuve has proven himself adept at handling actresses and aliens. With the exemplary score from Jóhann Jóhannsson and the accompanying soundscape, the gorgeous design of the spaceship, and the masterful editing, Arrival is a film that won’t disappear.