By Thomas Simpson
Acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve returns with the sci-fi drama, Arrival. Written by Eric Heisser and adapted from Ted Chiang’s short story titled Story of Your Life, Arrival is a refreshing tale of first contact that is set apart from the usual disaster strewn blockbusters that involve aliens. Although it looks like an invasion at first, humanity has no idea why the visitors are here or what their intentions really are.
In an attempt to communicate with the extra-terrestrials, christened Heptapods, US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) enlists the assistance of linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to lead a special team to decode the alien language and determine if they’re a threat. As Louise beings work, she is plagued with memories of her dead daughter which also contain hints that assist her. Other countries have their own translators with China perceiving the aliens to be a threat and look to strike first. Banks along with theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), must act fast to prove the aliens’ real intentions before an intergalactic war is started.
Arrival is a smartly written script that delivers a gradual tension that will have you gripped, but not necessarily on the edge of your seat. There is no urgency to the pace, not that it drags, instead the story unravels steadily and methodically. There’s no dread however and although we care about the end result the tension is never really heightened.
Adams is on solid form with a restrained and touching performance. Her communication with the aliens is as heartfelt as Banks’ moments with her daughter. By revealing her terminal condition early on it adds weight to Adam’s performance and raises many questions.
There’s no denying that it’s clever even if it’s not as clever as it thinks it is. There’s a great reveal towards the third act but then circumstances become a little coincidently, convenient and downright silly. There’s a slight element of Deus ex Machina at play which is regrettable as the solid pacing hurries towards a rushed conclusion.
The sound production is incredible with the score unnerving at times. The alien language quickly is intriguing to listen to but utterly fascinating to watch as the symbols swirl across the screen. The design of the aliens and their ships are wonderfully simple with Villeneuve adding mystique to the creatures by keeping them obscured.
It’s a thought provoking film that will raise some sophisticated discussion with audiences. It’s beautifully shot, but a little hollow story wise that left me feeling like I’d missed something when I left the cinema. Arrival is a good film, it’s very enjoyable, unfortunately it promises much and delivers little in the end.