When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma, Mark O’Brien, Abigail Pniowsky
Rated: PG-13 (brief strong language)
By Cole Schneider
For ~15 years, M. Night Shyamalan has been Hollywood’s poster-boy for crafting suspense films with (sometimes) interesting twists, but that poster should soon be redrawn with Denis Villeneuve’s face. Ever since his 2010 breakout, “Incendies”, which follows a French Canadian girl traveling to the Middle East to uncover a mystery about her mother, Villeneuve has taken over Hollywood, earning larger budgets without sacrificing the quality of his earlier work.
Indeed with “Prisoners”, “Enemy”, “Sicario”, and now “Arrival”, he has built a resume that blends mystery and suspense with superb craft, gritty humanization, and a pinch of surrealism. “Arrival” falls in line with his other works in those ways and others, but is perhaps his most optimistic movie. The film opens with a dreamy memory of our protagonist’s life with her child. The [Terrance] Malick-ian sequence is as moving as the early montage in “Up”. From there we enter the story proper: Aliens have arrived and our character is recruited to help the military combat the threat. Except here it’s not a charismatic hero intent on destroying invaders; rather we follow our smart, broken, reality-rooted protagonist—an expert in linguistics rather than a jet fighter—as she battles a war of communication, understanding, and empathy. As the story takes on larger allegorical elements, its twists and turns gain momentum, and by the end re/presents its thesis with rare grace and humanity.
The cool, intellectual, Kubrick-ian middle hour-and-a-half is alluring and compelling and provocative, and the warm-as-the-surface-of-the-sun, punch-in-the-gut-emotional, Malick-ian bookends are the perfectly tender and sublime and beautiful counterbalance. “Arrival” displays a keen sense of cinematic craft as it explores a well-worn sci-fi story with an unrivaled combination of head and heart.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
By Matt Greene
There’s nothing scarier than the unknown, yet the unknown is the only sure thing. All that’s real is what has already arrived; luckily, the truth of love can never fully depart. Though time causes the pain of endings, the love we experience is always worth it.
What does all this have to do with alien-invasion-drama Arrival? Everything. A visually mesmerizing, aurally overwhelming, emotionally disruptive, narratively surprising, and thematically pulsing sci-fi film for the ages, it’s not to be missed.
The setup is familiar: a group of UFOs appear over different cities all over Earth, and a small group of disparate humans must lead all humanity towards an understanding of their purpose. However, Independence Day this is not. More suspenseful than thrilling, it’s high-minded science fiction whose slow and steady pace only emboldens its immense engagement.
Think the best aspects of Kubrick and Spielberg: brainy ideas and complex visuals, mixed with spectacle and humanism. For example, on first entering the alien ship, we experience: characters’ shifting sense of gravity, fear giving way to wonder then back again, the prescient difficulty of communicating across impossible boundaries. Villeneuve, who’s becoming one of the greatest directors of our time, embodies such meaning into each of these moments. Even lines like, “I forgot how good it felt to be held by you,” carry meaning beyond their clichés.
Its intelligent sci-fi style brought to mind Close Encounters, Tree of Life, Interstellar, and fourth film I won’t mention. Just know that time and awareness are huge throughout, leading to a final montage that brought me to tears for the first time this cinematic year. Arrival is an absolutely stunning achievement from beginning to end.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars