I’ve got to hand it to Denis Villeneuve that the man knows how to put together a multi-layered film. All his films are more than they seem to be. Prisoners was not just a kidnapping film. Sicario was about more than the drug war along the U.S./Mexican border. Each of his films is infused with complexities that elevate it to more than they seem on the surface. All are based in human experience. What it means to be human. This is also the question in his latest film Arrival, which at first glance seems to be another alien invasion film. It totally isn’t.
Twelve mysterious spacecraft appear at different points around the globe. They are mostly in areas with low population and they are just hovering there. In Russia, Australia, the United States, China, Sudan, Sierre Leone, and other places. When nothing happens for 48 hours the American government decides they have to do something. Find out what the aliens want as people around the globe begin to panic. Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker – The Crying Game, The Last King of Scotland) is tasked with assembling a team of experts in order to figure out what is going on. Logically he selects physics expert, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner – Captain America: Civil War, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation). Next up is linguistics expert, Louise Banks (Amy Adams – American Hustle, Nocturnal Animals). Louise’s job is to attempt to translate the noises/sounds/language of the aliens. This is a race in rural Montana against the self-imposed clock to get the answers.
For me there are two stars in this film – Amy Adams and Denis Villeneuve. Denis Villeneuve proves once again that he is one of the best film makers working today. He has created another measured, impeccably paced, thoughtful film. A film that does not take the usual path. You think this is going to be another one of the many alien invasion films and then, of course, it isn’t. There are precious few alien film cliches to be found here. Don’t misunderstand me, though, this is still an entertaining film. It is not totally out there.
The film does not spoon feed you all the answers. Force you to interpret it one way. Lots of it is left open to interpretation. It will be a different film for different people. Fodder for discussion with whomever you see it with or learn have also seen it.
Made me think about how we don’t seem to have any long time staying power. We have such short attention spans. Everything is about instant gratification today. If this was to happen would we dig in to figure out a solution or just shoot first and ask questions later. That leads to another truth about today’s world that comes out of the film for me. How we turn to violence or force to solve our problems. It is our go to. The countries in this film cannot work together and end up mistrusting one another. Instead of pooling knowledge try to do things on their own. Time and memory are important. Things we don’t seem to value are really what makes us human.
Communication or language is not valued today. Oh, we think we are by using social media. We really aren’t. It ends up dividing us even further. Language is not seen as important. Conversation is pointed out to be impactful. Communicating effectively and spending the time and effort doing it will bring humans, of all parts of the world, closer together. If we don’t take time to cultivate it then we will drift further and further apart. To the type of world that U.S. President elect Donald Trump seems to be pushing us towards.
Second big star is Amy Adams. Very quietly I am going to admit here that up until now I was not convinced of Adams’ talent. Colour me wrong. From the very first frames of this film this is Amy Adams’ film. And she does a great job. A great job without tons of dialogue to get her character’s thoughts and motivations across. Hers is a performance that happens largely on her face, in her eyes and with her body language. At times she brings you silently through fatigue, shock, sorrow, fear, and frustration. Adams’ does all this while making it seem natural and effortless. Delicate performance that I hope won’t be overlooked come Oscar nomination time.
Then everything is wrapped up a pretty bow by the score by Johann Johannsson (Sicario, The Theory of Everything) and the visually stunning cinematography by Bradford Young (Selma, A Most Violent Year).