Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker and others
Rating: * * * ½
In a market crowded with aliens, dystopian landscapes and threats of apocalypse, there comes Denis Villeneuve’s sharp and complex sci-fi thriller, Arrival, which refrains from showing the CGI created mass destruction that is the norm with such films. He opts for a tome that is unsettling and perhaps ominous, but not spectacular. He is obviously not aiming at fanboys but grown up audiences who expect their sci-fi not to talk down to them.
In the film based on Story of Your Life, by Ted Chiang, and quite influenced by Close Encounters of The Third Kind, Amy Adams plays Dr. Louise Banks, a divorced linguistics professor, whose expertise is needed to make contact with extraterrestrials when twelve alien spacecraft land at different points around the globe. She is recruited by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), along with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), to go to Montana where the nearest spaceship arrived. Even though the spacecraft are not threatening in any way, their presence causes havoc all over the world.
Louise, Ian and their military escorts go into the spacecraft and come across two massive, scary ‘heptapods’. In the midst of the panic, Louise patiently tries to find a way to understand their language and after weeks of work, decodes their symbols.
Arrival eschews some of high-powered hysterics that usually accompany films about aliens, and opts for an intelligent tone that has a lot more to say than ‘the end is near.’ Why are the aliens on earth and what do they want is what the film tries to figure out, while making a strong case for communication first, muscle flexing later.
Written and filmed with restraint (as much as possible in the doomsday scenario) and emotional depth (the memories Louise has of her daughter who died young of cancer), Villeneuve gets a marvellous performance from Amy Adams. There is already an Oscar buzz around her. Arrival may have its flaws, but she is one of the reasons to watch it.