“Arrival” Movie Review

I’ll just say it… Arrival is the M. Night Shyamalan movie that M. Night Shyamalan never made and could have otherwise saved his career. This science-fiction drama- written by Eric  Heisserer- was released on November 11th, 2016, managing to triple it’s relatively small $47 million budget. After two successful outings with Sicario and Prisoners, director Denis Villeneuve shows us his prowess as a filmmaking force to be reckoned with in the modern era. Based on the novella Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, a series of mysterious alien space crafts land on Earth’s surface simultaneously. As part of our first contact, the U.S. government brings in linguist Dr. Louise Banks and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly, played by Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, respectively, to try and communicate with the extraterrestrials. But then other countries start to grow paranoid of the situation and things get more intense and stressful. I’ll just let the audience members know that this is not a very exciting movie. If you just got out of Doctor Strange or Fantastic Beasts, then this is not the movie you’d want to sneak into in the theater. In fact, some scenes may be found to be a little boring by less than patient viewers. However, like any good M. Night Shyamalan movie, that’s all part of the build-up. This film’s story is a confidently paced slow burn that keeps you trying to figure out the twists and surprises, culminating in the emotional last act, which I’ll touch on a little later. Most of the film is spent with the main characters attempting to communicate with the aliens, discussing the progress they’ve made, and ultimately learning from their numerous failures. And I love that that is the main focus of Arrival, rather than a generic invasion action movie with extensive CGI and dialogue as stale as Trump Steaks. The dialogue is really well-written, allowing the characters to explore their full-bodied nature. They trade barbs with one another, they banter back and forth, they bicker and argue. So the fact that they don’t just talk business makes it feel a little more realistic. Johann Johannsson’s moody score perfectly establishes the tone and tense atmosphere of the movie, which is matched only by Bradford Young’s  astonishing cinematography. Filled with wide anamorphic framed shots, I can’t wait to see his work in the Han Solo spinoff movie. And yes, every single actor in the ensemble was fantastic and perfectly cast in their roles. Amy Adams’ lead performance as Louise provides us with more proof that she is one of the best actresses working in Hollywood right now. A truly versatile role, she bounces between hope and sadness, fear and bravery, intelligent and dumbfounded. Forrest Whitaker was great in the movie. Even though he wasn’t around much, his character was really relevant and the lines of dialogue he had were enjoyable. Actually, I think it’s a given these days that if Forrest Whitaker is in a movie, he’s going to be good in it. Jeremy Renner’s turn as Ian is perhaps the character that I relate most to in this film. I understood all of his pop culture references; granted he is much smarter than I actually am, but he still did an excellent job. And what I love most about Arrival is the subtext and the message it has underneath everything. Even though the movie is about an alien invasion, it’s ultimately a complex story about humanity. What would we do if something like this were to ever happen in real life? Would we work together to pull ourselves through the cracks? Would it be every man for himself? Are we a smart enough and worthy enough species to make contact with extraterrestrial life? However, it is a very hopeful and involving answer to all of those questions. And I suppose it would have to be because, honest to God, 2016 has been the most venomous, grueling, and divisive year I’ve ever had the displeasure of living in. We needed a movie within a genre we are all familiar with, yet is showing us a narrative that is both positive and realistic. This realistic nature feeds into the handling of the story. For much of the film, it focuses heavily on the science aspect of science-fiction. The language created by Martine Bertrand and Stephen Wolfram is fascinating to look at and decode it yourself. Throughout the 116 minute-long runtime, the whole concept of language is explained to be based on mathematics and different branches of science. And then the last act is when some of the less grounded and more fantastical elements of the genre start kicking in. It sucks you in like a vacuum, leaving you on the edge of your seat and biting your fingernails down to the knuckles of your fingers. All the pieces start falling into place, and the seemingly contrived plot elements from earlier on lace together like a nice ball of yarn. And by the last five minutes, I was holding back tears; not just from the isolated moment but from a culmination of intensity and pride. Arrival was an intense, involving, and well-written drama that explored humanity in a thoughtful and hopeful way; the more I think about it, the better it gets. One of the best sci-fi movies to come out in years, Arrival is a brilliant piece of modern filmmaking that left me breathless.

Image result for arrival poster


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