Finally, a movie to get excited over. With such a disappointing last six months for film, leave it to Denis Villeneuve and Amy Adams to remind us that 2016 in movies hasn’t been quite so bad after all.
Arrival is a brilliant sci-fi film about linguist Doctor Louise Banks (Adams), who is recruited to communicate with a mysterious alien race when 12 foreign vessels land across the earth. With the help of experimental physicist Ian (Jeremy Renner) and Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), Louise races to discover why the aliens have landed and attempts to unite the warring world in their quest for the truth.
Sublime but extremely powerful, Arrival is a hopeful story of scientific discovery, fraught with the disturbing reality that, as a planet, we are more distrusting of each other than ever. As Louise’s bond with the heptapods deepens as she discovers the secrets to their language, a beautiful friendship is formed in the trust she and Ian have with Elvis and Costello (their nicknames for the two heptapods). Yet whether the heptapods are there for good or evil, the true battle is fought between the nations; with the progression of human relations with the heptapods, we see humanity divide further as they fight to keep secrets from each other, causing a rift that Louise knows is only creating further problems, if not war.
But the core of the film is Louise’s tragic yet moving story of family and loss, taking what could’ve been a clinical sci-fi film and making it about humanity. As Louise struggles with the breakdown of a marriage and the loss of a child, we come to realise that her story might be more than it seems – and even more saddening. More than just about humans trying to communicate with aliens, Arrival is about human connection and love, and despite all the film’s melancholy and its heartbreaking twist, its main message is an uplifting one of hope and strength, of fighting battles and preparing for the ones to come.
This simple yet moving story is also accompanied by some of the most breathtaking visuals committed to film; the heptapods, ever-shrouded by their cloudy glass barrier and with their sleek egg-shaped ships, are realised like modern art, their inky circular language unfurling across the screen like ancient poetry. Villeneuve is an absolute visionary, and the oft silent film is tense and breathtaking, followed by sections that are loud with emotion, amplified by unbelievable performances.
Though Jeremy Renner is quite enjoyable and even sweet, and Forest Whitaker is strong and unmoving as the man in charge, this is far and away Amy Adams’ film. Louise is courageous and intelligent, but also flawed, unsure and sometimes selfish, an everyday woman who isn’t bestowed with some great power, but finds it in herself to be strong. How Adams hasn’t won an Oscar before (despite being nominated five times – Leo who?) is beyond me, but this could be her moment, because Louise Banks is one of my favourite characters of the year.
Like the best science fiction films before it, Arrival achieves a perfect balance between science and humanity, hope and tragedy, success and failure. It is simple yet brilliant, beautiful and unbelievably moving, and a return to form for film this year.
It’s a small but talented cast – here’s my list of the top five films starring the cast of Arrival:
- Enchanted – Amy Adams
- Captain America: Civil War – Jeremy Renner
- Good Morning, Vietnam – Forest Whitaker
- The Fighter – Amy Adams
- Doctor Strange – Michael Stuhlbarg
Photos taken from IMDb.com: