I’ll keep this short. Go see this movie but keep your expectations in check. Do not go into this anticipating a typical run-of-the-mill alien invasion story. Arrival is more reminiscent of Contact and Interstellar than anything else and strives to leave you with thought-provoking questions. It unfolds like a mystery thriller that happens to be set in the backdrop of a science fiction drama. The supporting cast include the likes of Forest Whitaker and Jeremy Renner but they feel a little shortchanged. They serve as expository characters who are needed to hit specific beats. Amy Adams is front and center here and does not disappoint. She plays Banks with great sincerity and is easy to sympathize with because of the extraordinary circumstances taking place. Banks’ memories of her daughter give us some insight into her past and is often drawn upon as she learns to cope with the present.
The alien life forms, nicknamed the Heptapods, possess two distinct variants of communication. One is a spoken language while the other revolves around complex singular symbols. Comprehending the manner in which these two languages work in tandem and relate meaning is central to the mystery and nothing short of enthralling. Banks takes a holistic approach to breaking down the communication process by using simplistic visual cues to relay complicated ideas to the Heptapods. Ironically this bewildering communication dilemma proves to be the lesser of two evils. Escalating tensions reach a tipping point as violence begins to break out. Humans devolve as uncertainty takes hold. Are these beings here to wreak havoc? What is their intention? The answers to these questions are delivered in profound and unexpected ways. The film is well paced but picks up in momentum with an infinitely more interesting second half. The potential of the story hinges on Banks’ discoveries and what they mean for mankind. The film’s opening voiceover takes on an entirely different interpretation by the end and the final scene is quite heartbreaking. I felt like there were creative liberties taken in order to cross the finish line but it’s a minor gripe in an otherwise memorable third act. The score is hauntingly beautiful and the cinematography helps land the the narrative’s emotional punches.
Denis Villeneuve’s latest feature film is worth the watch as it explores high concept ideas revolving around human connection. A few plot inconsistencies emerge but they are forgivable in a film that will lead to much discussion and debate. If you are a fan of unique sci-fi works, this is right up your alley.