Why are they here?
Denis Villeneuve, the director of the excellent Sicario, returns to direct a sci-fi brimming with intelligence and compelling characters based on the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang.
When the world is ‘invaded’ by twelve enormous pebble shaped objects, Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) recruits linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and physicist Dr Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to helping figure out what the hell is going on.
Arrival is a true sci-fi. A film that asks us the bigger questions in life. In that way, it might be similar to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. But this film is much less action and spectacle and much more rational problem solving. And it works wonders, it’s such a compelling watch. The mystery unfolds as the story progresses, revealing more layers and complexity. The more we understand, the more questions there are. Dr Bank’s job is to communicate with the Aliens, whose ‘language’ is dependent on understanding both visual and audio signals simultaneously. The way Banks begins to communicate with the beings is something we never really see in films and it’s a breath of fresh air for the sci-fi genre, particularly after the generic, boring, explosion heavy, wiz-bang awfulness of certain films this summer. We’re looking at you, Independence Day: Resurgence. It’s not spoon-fed to the audience either, you’re given space to figure out what’s happening.
It’s slow, it’s grounded but the tension doesn’t drop throughout. The tension is built when the military at other ‘landing sites’ across the world feel threatened by misunderstanding what the aliens are saying to them and choose to attack the visitors rather then engage in rational conversation. Adam’s Banks understands that the nuance of language is important and is in a race against time to understand what the visitors are truly after before the missiles are fired.
Amy Adams is as brilliant, if not more so, than she is in Nocturnal Animals. She plays the role with such emotional depth that only really becomes properly clear until the end of the film. Jeremy Renner is strong yet understated in his role and Forest Whitaker is just as good as you’d expect. Nobody over-plays their role either. All the characters are perfectly rational in their actions and that’s portrayed through the casts’ measured performances.
The film is beautiful to look at and the score by Jóhann Jóhannsson is incredibly moving and adds an extra layer to compliment the emotional journey that Banks goes through. It’s a story about hope. About trying to find a common ground. About how trying that little bit harder to understand somebody might pay dividends over trying to blow them up given the first chance. It’s pretty telling in this time of intolerance and xenophobia.