Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg
Directed By: Denis Villeneuve
The Plot: Louise (Adams) is a linguists professor who is brought in to try and communicate with an alien vessel that has landed in Montana, one of twelve landings in the world. What do they want? Are they peaceful? With the help of Ian (Renner) a scientist, she’ll race against the clock to possibly save humanity.
What Works: That’s about all I can give you. There’s a fantastic third act twist, so talking too much about the plot could spoil that for you. However, it is one of the better twists in recent years. Adams gives a tour de force performance here, and she’s definitely in the Oscar race. The only question is how good she is in Nocturnal Animals versus this, and which film will win out. This is another spectacular visual masterpiece from Denis Villeneuve, who has previously brought us Prisoners and Sicario. The cinematography is stunning, and the visual effects are terrific, even if they aren’t as flashy as a Marvel movie. The film is unlike what you’d expect, and because of that it becomes a welcome piece of art. Despite the film taking a slow burn approach, creeping up to each moment, it never has pacing issues. It’s odd that a film that moves this slowly can also have no pacing issues, but it is just simply the very careful assembly of building blocks. It’s like watching a master play a chess game. Each move is pointed and purposeful, and each moment in Arrival is the same. At just under two hours, no moment is wasted. There is no doubt in my mind that I have just watched one of the best films of the year, an an easy contender for Best Picture. It is an incredibly smart science fiction drama that asks us incredibly deep questions about our future, about knowing our path, and if we would change anything knowing the road ahead. It’s a very intelligent movie, and unlike or sci-fi epics of the past that value heroism in the form of brawn, this values heroism in the form of intelligence and critical thinking. Louise saves us all by calmly sitting down and analyzing the situation, using her years of studied expertise to formulate a solution. If this film has a secret agenda, it’s “stay in school, kids.”
What Doesn’t: I’m struggling to fill in this section, except to say I wish Renner had a bit more to do, emotionally in the film. I get that this is a showcase for Adams, but there’s no reason he couldn’t ride her coattails for a supporting actor nomination. But, just like the fantastic Gravity where George Clooney had very little to do, Renner is given a very small set to work with. This is all about Adams, and he’s just there for the ride.
Final Word: Absolutely a must see, and worth the trip to the theatre. Not only is it a fantastic film, but it also is visually stunning, adding to the fact that it deserves to be seen on the big screen. Also, kudos to the marketing team for not ruining the twist in the trailers, because Villeneuve did an excellent job setting it up. Plus, it is certain to be a focal point of the Oscar conversation, and you want to be well versed there too, right?
Final Grade: A