Review: Arrival Will Render You Speechless
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Summary: A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.
There have been a few times in my time as a critic, both professionally and when I was doing it for fun, when I walked out of a movie completely speechless. It doesn’t take very long for me to find my words often (I wouldn’t be very good at my job if I couldn’t form an opinion fairly quickly) but Arrival is a movie that changed that. I stayed behind in the theater long after the credits with another critic because neither of us could form a coherent sentence about what we thought of Arrival. Even now, as I sit to write this review a few days later, I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it and wish I could see it again before I write this.
Arrival is another smart science fiction movie that takes what we expect from modern alien invasion movies and turns it on its head.
The first thing I would recommend about Arrival is to go in with as little information as possible. I didn’t know that much aside from the core concept going in and I think the movie had a better effect on me that way. This is also a movie you don’t want to spoil for other people, and while I won’t do that either I do want to see if the sleight of hand lives up to the punchline at the end. There are also some amazing performances going on here with Amy Adams being the standout. She is vulnerable and believable as she takes on this impossible to fathom situation and does the best she can with it. She gets some great back up by Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker but ultimately this is her story and not theirs.
There is truly awesome cinematography in this movie that I really enjoyed. The ships are large and imposing and somehow manage to avoid looking completely goofy. The design of the aliens, when we see them, is inhuman and that manages to avoid looking stupid when it so easily could have gone that direction. Director Denis Villeneuve decided that there were more interesting things going on here than the normal things that come with alien invasion movies. There is a shootout but we don’t see any of it and instead we see new footage of how humanity would react to twelve ships landing overnight. Whether it’s a radio host calling for violence or scientists wanting to ask complex questions about space travels, there are a variety of reactions and they all feel real. There is also a distinct lack of music which ends with up a very tense feeling movie despite the fact that most of the movie is conversation in one way or another.
While I am saying a lot of things I liked it might be apparent that I’m not saying whether or not I liked the movie overall, and the honest answer is I’m not entirely sure. I love smart science fiction and this was absolutely it. I liked the design and the performances but it was a movie that left me without words and unable to decide whether I liked it or not. I’m inclined to say yes but this is a film that is going to cause a lot of people to be lost for words in many different ways. That kind of effect, however, leads to good discussion and debate and this is a movie where the intentions are very clear but the individual effect can have a wide variety.
Arrival is the first of the Oscar bait smart science fiction movies to hit this year and it is one people are going to be talking about. I’m not entirely sure if it’s going to connect with mainstream audiences looking for something more explosive in their alien movies but the people it does connect to aren’t going to forget it anytime soon.