Arrival: Movie Review
With a title like Arrival and a trailer full of interior spaceship views, men in camoflauge and unusual floating objects, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was going to be another alien invasion film.
Even the opening sets it up that way as linguistic professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is tasked to work alongside theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to work out what the aliens want and if Earth is in danger.
As the film unfolds however, you realise this is anything but your standard alien sci-fi flick. For the most part of the 116 minute run-time, you are focused on Banks’ efforts to find out the alien motivation within their spacecraft or the political struggles behind the scenes rather than seeing how the planet is affected – indeed, a couple of phone calls and news reports are all you see from the outside world.
On paper this sounds like something which could turn people off, but you need not fear. Watching Banks wrestle sleep deprivation, visions of her daughter and pressure from the likeable but stern Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) and the slimy Agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg) keeps you invested in her character, while the mystery of why the seemingly placid “heptapods” have visited are planet keep you hooked until the film’s mind-blowing finish.
Indeed the strength of the film is that in a number of ways it feels so grounded. Adams’ performance is entirely relatable – ranging from understated at times when the main character is unfamiliar with her surroundings to forceful and strong as events transpire. Her plausible reactions to the strange things happening around her and frustrating bureaucracy often hooks the audience in more than the special effects or set-pieces – like the look of wonderment when she first sees the aliens.
The bickering between nations on how to deal with a potential threat also means tensions are always simmering below the surface rather than thrust in our face, meaning that we are constantly in-tune with the pressure Banks and Donnelly are under rather than it feeling forced. Again, the differing approaches and mentalities of the nations involved feel like they could happen in real life, and leave you wondering whether it is how a scenario like this would unfold were it to happen today.
The film, which is based on Ted Chiang’s short Story of Your Life, is well-paced and manages to tie the themes of Bank’s troubles, political conflict and the aliens’ aims together in a superb final act that lives up to a slow (although never plodding) burn in the opening hour or so.
In summary, Arrival can almost be seen not only as the alien story for a modern age, but an interesting commentary on how the modern age would deal with an alien story, and it delivers on both scores brilliantly.