1554. Arrival (2016)

8.8 Intense, cerebral and exhilarating
  • Acting 8.8
  • Directing 8.9
  • Story 8.8
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Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Running Time: 116 mins

Arrival is an American film about a skilled linguist who is brought on board by the US military when the world is plunged into crisis and panic after twelve alien vessels mysteriously land on Earth, with her as one of the only people who can communicate with the extraterrestrial beings and find out why they are here.

This is a very special film. A hugely unique take on first contact, Arrival is one of the most intense and cerebral experiences you’ve ever had at the movies, requiring full concentration, an open mind, and patience for a slow-moving, but utterly enthralling story. Featuring exceptional performances, astonishing directing from Denis Villeneuve, a near-perfect screenplay, and a mesmerising score, this is a truly exhilarating film to watch, and one that will leave you thinking and pondering long after the credits have rolled.

First off then, suppose the most important thing to say about this film is that you have to have your brain turned on. This is not even in the same league as the likes of Independence Day or even Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, but is instead a dark, heavy-going drama that only uses a science-fiction setting to tell a gripping and emotionally powerful story about humanity.

Much like all of Denis Villeneuve’s films, Arrival is at times a soul-destroying experience, portraying some utterly devastating forecasts of how people around the world would deal with first contact, but that’s one of the reasons that it’s such an arresting watch.

Villeneuve himself does an exceptional job at directing this film. It’s the first massive-scale project we’ve seen from him, but his astonishing ability to create a stunningly eerie and tense atmosphere at every single moment in this film, whether it be in the unnerving sweeping shots of the alien spacecraft, or the smaller, more claustrophobic moments centring on the human characters’ efforts to deal with them, is testament to what a talent he is.

And that tense eeriness carries over brilliantly into every other part of the film. For me, one of the most memorable elements of Arrival was the score by Jóhann Jóhannsson. Staying effectively silent for so much of the film, Jóhannsson takes an incredibly unique and experimental approach to the music of the film, often making it appear as if it is sound coming from the real world.

At times, the aliens’ cries and speech become pieces of musical score, adding significantly to the sense of danger and tension, which was stunning to see. At others, however, he uses some powerful instrumental tunes to heighten the drama of the characters’ emotions, and although this is a film in which you can hear the score, it plays such a significant role in shaping your experience that it’s a huge positive.

Along with the music, the performances are another key element that make this film so stunningly intense. At the centre of it all is Amy Adams, who is astonishing from start to finish. Dealing with a very complex character and story, she brilliantly powers through and portrays a huge range of emotions, from her character’s crushing depression early on in the film, to her determination and strength whilst attempting to communicate with the alien beings. It’s not the normal Amy Adams we know and love so much, but a far more battle-hardened and intense performance, but that deviation from her more typical roles is spectacular to watch, making this easily one of her best ever performances.

And finally, we come to the screenplay. Based on a short story, the writing here is an exceptional display of ingenuity and intelligence. The heavy-going and slow-paced nature of the movie becomes a virtue because of the writing, giving you as a viewer the time to think about everything that is going on and understand it deeper, whilst also taking on some incredibly complex ideas and themes and making them work almost perfectly in the context of a science-fiction film.

In the end, however, this film isn’t so much about the aliens as it is about its human characters. The story is very difficult to talk about without spoilers, however I can say that the way the film’s narrative unfolds throughout is genuinely one of the most unique and brilliant things I’ve ever seen, and it makes for an astonishingly powerful development of emotions towards the finale. It does require an open mind, but with that comes a truly incredible and thought-provoking story.

Overall, I was blown away by Arrival. A masterpiece of directing, scoring, acting and writing, it’s a truly exhilarating watch that will take you on a devastating rollercoaster of emotions, but with an ingenious and utterly enthralling story that you will not forget in a long time, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.8.


About Author

The Mad Movie Man, AKA Anthony Cullen, writes articles and reviews about movies and the world of cinema. Since January 1st, 2013, he has watched and reviewed a movie every day. This is the blog dedicated to the project: www.madmovieman.com