Until the people of Earth make actual contact with alien life, visitors from outer space will always make great fodder for stories and a source of wonder. The fear in the unknown has been the genesis for so many movies its impossible to name them all.
Eric Heissere’s screenplay for the 2016 film “Arrival” is based on Ted Chiang’s 1998 novella ‘Story of Your Life’ and takes the often employed scenario of mankind versus extra terrestrials but does so in a unique way. “Arrival” doesn’t have epic battle sequences or revolting creatures from Mars, but rather relies on deep suspense, high steak tensions, and great dramatic acting to tell the story.
Amy Adams plays Louise Banks, a linguistics expert and college professor. Amy Adams has recently burst onto the scene as a top female lead. Adams has been nominated for five Academy Awards in the past dozen years, and at some point in time will certainly take one home. As Louise Banks, she displays her range in a dramatic, thrilling, and at times heart wrenching character.
Director Dennis Villenueve (“Sicario“) does a masterful job of displaying modern times and how present day Earthlings would react in the wake of historic events unfolding before them. This is embodied in an early scene when Louise’s class is interrupted one afternoon as alert sounds simultaneously emanate from every one of her students phones. We know something is up, and are already on edge as the breaking news is revealed; 12 alien spacecrafts have landed at different parts of Earth – one touching down in the United States somewhere in rural Montana.
The buildup itself is one of epic nature as we see the instant reaction of everyone as the event is actual occurring – something just a decade ago would have been a much slower leak . One of my favorite scenes occurs as the campus is being closed down, and we see hundreds of students emptying quickly, with Louise looking up to the chilling sight of scores of fighter jets blasting across the sky, emergency sirens ringing from all around.
Louise is recruited by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) for her expertise in language skills; Louise is needed to decipher the eerie and inaudible messages the aliens have been sending from inside their massive pods. The race is on as Louise has limited time to make effective communications with the aliens and determine the nature of the visit as chaos is ensuing across the globe. “If this is a peaceful contact,” one news pundit solemnly states to the world, “why send twelve ships. Why not send one?”
The story of “Arrival” is one of root human nature and deep interpersonal connection. The theme of communications is on full display, occurring between the people of earth and the aliens, and more deeply within the various nations and cultures themselves. World leaders are seen holding their cards close to the vest, and even Louise has to find a way to communicate better with her partner, scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), and Colonel Walker, who like a typical military leader, demands fast results.
Jeremy Renner is a good fit as Ian Donnelly, bringing humor to the film, and like Forest Whitaker, allowing Adams to be the acting lead.
“Arrival” has great effects, including the aliens themselves, and the first unveiling of the massive vessel they arrived in; a giant UFO appearing on the horizon in the outback, surrounded by US armed forces.
I think the pacing is perfect, at just under 2 hours you don’t get bored, though I did find the ending a bit confusing and some of the obvious present day political infusions to be unneeded.
“Arrival” is a solid movie that couples a great leading performance by Amy Adams with a suspenseful tale and intriguing concept.
by – Matt Christopher