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Arrival - Review

Posted by Nick Spake on November 10, 2016 at 5:55 PM

Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival” would make a superb double feature with Jeff Nichols’s “Midnight Special,” which hit theaters earlier this year. Both movies have phenomenal buildup, calling to mind Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” “Arrival” in particular is perhaps the closest any contemporary film has come to capturing the wonder of a classic “Twilight Zone” episode. Like Rod Serling’s best works, “Arrival” is a poignant and clever piece of science fiction with provocative themes that parallel our own society. Above all else, this is a challenging mystery that keeps you guessing until the final act, which fortunately doesn’t disappoint.


Amy Adams, who’s still overdue for an Oscar, gives one of her finest performances as Dr. Louise Banks. This linguist becomes the government’s go-to girl when several UFOs arrive on earth. Upon making first contact, the military quickly finds that the aliens are unfamiliar with the human language. These extraterrestrials primarily communicate through visuals that kind of look like inkblots. Banks is tasked with not only interpreting their language, but also teaching the aliens how to converse with humans.


“Arrival” features great supporting performances from Forest Whitaker as a US military colonel and Jeremy Renner as a hunky mathematician. However, the film belongs to Adams, who creates a strong, smart, and driven protagonist at the center of the biggest event in human history. Banks is already coping with the loss of her daughter, who died for a terminal illness. Yet, this doesn’t stop her from pushing forward with the weight of the world on her shoulders. Adams brings a genuine sense of awe to her role and keeps us invested every step of the way.


The aliens are also unique creations with some of the most distinctive designs since “District 9.” Their spaceships in particular are highly inventive, looking like eclipsed moons on the outside. On this inside, though, they’re reminiscent of the Star Gate from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” With a budget of only $50 million, Villeneuve accomplishes so much on a visual level than Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich, or Zach Snyder could with $200 million. While the effects here are extraordinary, they really aren’t the focus here. This is a movie about communication, which is especially significant in an era where so many cultures seem divided and disconnected. If we could all learn to speak a universal language, though, we might just move towards a brighter future.


There’s an unwavering sense of uncertainty throughout much of “Arrival,” as Banks attempts to uncover why these aliens are here. Have they come to enrich humankind or cause our downfall? Eric Heisserer’s screenplay brings everything full circle in the end with a twist that surprisingly doesn’t feel forced. Villeneuve, who previously gave us “Prisoners” and “Sicario,” continues to prove that he’s among our most impressive up-and-coming directors. One can only hope he’ll bring the same passion and intelligence to the upcoming “Blade Runner 2049.” Until then, “Arrival” is a modern sci-fi classic that’ll make audiences think while also influencing them to keep watching the stars.


4.5 out of 5 Stars

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