Film Review: Arrival

Arrival is not your typical alien invasion film. Pitting chaos against quietness, and them against us, Dennis Villeneuve’s latest is a more cerebral effort than previous films of its ilk.

Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve specialises in intense, often confronting dramas with ominous one-word titles (Maelström, Polytechnique, Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario), and while he’s occasionally dabbled in the fantastic previously, this latest effort is his first (ugh!) ‘Genre Movie’.

Or is it?

While sci-fi fans might flock to see the thing thinking that it’s some alien invasion epic like an Independence Day, this is more strange and even cerebral, and is less about ‘Them’ than ‘Us’, and how powerful our words can be – especially when misinterpreted.

Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a renowned professor of linguistics who has helped the military previously (and rather regretted it), so when a dozen mysterious, half-football-like craft descend to and hover over key spots across the Earth, she’s recruited by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to try and make sense of what seems to be the visitors’ language.

Joining forces with mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) at a site in Montana (actually Quebec), Louise attempts to talk to the ‘heptapods’, which use strange smoky symbols to communicate, and the long process of making them understand concepts like ‘your’ and the very notion of a question infuriates the bigwigs, who want to know the most important things about them right damn now. Like who are they, where do they come from, why are they here, and when do the explosions start?

Despite the backdrop of a world in chaos and on the brink of war, this remarkably restrained and quiet drama is built upon a strong but subtle performance by Adams (who’s rarely been better), and while Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer (adapting Ted Chiang’s novella Story Of Your Life) threaten to get a little too crazy into the final act, it remains remarkably compelling and, at times, cosmically moving.

Rated M. Arrival is in cinemas now.

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