In the current political climate of the world, a film that fills you with hope is something that we all need, that film being Arrival. I first got the chance to see the film at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival but decided to wait until now to review it so I didn’t accidentally give anything away prior to release, and since Toronto I’ve ended up seeing it 2 more times, each viewing of the film letting me see new things that I hadn’t seen when I saw the film in Toronto, and making me love the film even more than I did when I first saw it.The film focuses on the sudden arrival of 12 alien vessels in different locations around the world, with the US army hiring linguist Louise Banks to provide translations of what the aliens, known as heptapods, are saying to figure out why they are on Earth. After getting nowhere translating the heptapods’ speech, she instead focuses on visual communication which would be faster than auditory communication alone and would allow for more clarity in communication. However, whilst Louise is working on the translations, along with theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly, there is increasing panic all over the world over potential hostility, made worse due to miscommunication involving the Chinese and their interactions with the heptapods. One thing that is abundantly clear is that this is one of the most intelligent films that has been released in a long time. Every part of the film revolving around the nature of language, how messy it is and how easy it is for misinterpretation is brilliantly executed, especially when it goes into scientific principles relating to how the brain can rewire itself to think in other languages. The intelligence also extends to the idea of communicating in a visual language to the heptapods as it would be the best way to communicate with a race that has no understanding of human speech. The film also does a brilliant job showing the need for humanity to work together and how our inherent selfishness, paranoia and xenophobia has made it so that, if an alien race did land on the planet, humanity would be the ones to attack first. The film also has great moments related to the nature of memory and time, but to go more into detail would spoil the film.
The performances in the film are excellent throughout. Amy Adams gives one of the best performances in her career as Louise Banks. She shows the intelligence of the character brilliantly throughout and her anger over how little attention is being given to the need to work together comes through clearly. It’s in the emotional moments that Adams shines though, subtle movements with her face and eyes filling the character with so much pain and grief over what we see at the start of the film, creating some great tearjerking moments. Jeremy Renner meanwhile also shows great intelligence as Donnelly, along with more humour, the best lines in the film going to him; Forest Whitaker gives a very commanding and understated performance as Colonel Weber and Michael Stuhlbarg is brilliantly slimy as CIA Agent Halpern.
On a technical level Arrival is very impressive. The design of the heptapods and their ship is brilliant in it’s simplicity. Through very simple means we see the true alien nature of everything related to the heptapods, making the film a bit more unsettling, aided by brilliant music by Johann Johannsson which unsettles, as well as increases the emotional resonance, mainly through the use of On The Nature of Daylight. The editing as well is brilliantly executed, although to explain why would be to spoil the film. The direction by Denis Villeneuve and cinematography by Bradford Young is some of the best of the year, especially when we see the heptapod ship for the first time and when we see the characters go inside it, the playing around with gravity of the ship, the camera angles and shifts in perspective being done so quickly and effectively by the crew. All of this helps to create a brilliant atmosphere throughout the film, using the limited number of locations to create feelings of isolation to enhance the theme of communication.
Overall, Arrival is one of the best sci-fi films that has been released in a long time and was easily the best of the films that I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival. The themes are incredibly timely, the script is intelligent in every aspect, the technical aspects of the film are expertly handled in their complex simplicity and the performances are top notch, in particular Amy Adams delivering some of the best work in her career. If you get the chance, this is a film that you need to see.
My Rating: 5/5