Why are they here?
Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is in the middle of teaching a linguistics class when news of the alien landing hits. You’d assume that this would immediately lead to mass hysteria but that’s not the case with Arrival. She soon learns that there are twelve alien ships dotted around the globe at seemingly random points. Before long Dr Banks is whisked away to one of the landing sites to work alongside scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). Their task is to try and converse with the aliens and find the answer to the question that everybody is asking. Why are they here?
Arrival is based upon the widely acclaimed emotional short story by Ted Chiang, ‘The Story of your life.’ The thing that sets Arrival out from the crowd of alien contact stories that have come before it is that actually, it’s not really an alien contact story. Sure, that’s the backdrop of the film but really this is an emotional character drama with a riveting plot and a performance from Amy Adams that drives the whole film and has many crying out for an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
This latest film from Denis Villeneuve is also much slower than films of a similar nature. Some could potentially find this annoying but the slower pacing is deliberate. It helps you to get a feel for the characters and sets the focus on them. Even after the landing it takes a while before we are even shown one of the ‘spaceships’. (In a wide, beautifully lingering shot.) This is not about the aliens, this is a film about humans. It’s a film about how we react, how we communicate or how we don’t. The theme of communication is key. On an objective level it’s about how we can communicate with this alien race but subjectively it’s a look at how we communicate within our own species, whether that is internationally or within our own family unit.
It’s Amy Adams’ film from the first scene to the last and she does a stellar job here, complimenting the script with a much less vivacious heroine than we may be used to. She’s understatedly heroic. Less appealing however is the character of Ian Donnelly. Jeremy Renner does a fine job playing the role but it’s the role itself that feels weak. There is just no real reason for him to be there. Other than one small discovery which Banks could have made herself he doesn’t really do much other than serve as a companion for the protagonist and a tool for a pay off later.
It’s very difficult to discuss the overall effect of Arrival in a spoiler free way. It’s more science than fiction so the climax comes a little out of left field and repeat viewing could be deemed essential! It is one of those rare treats in cinema. A treat that delivers on exactly what is promised, not falling foul to deceptive marketing. The pay off at the end feels like it fits, even if it may take you a while to fully comprehend.
written by Bradley Allen