Over the last week, roughly half of planet Earth appears to have been hoping for the aliens to arrive and take over, making any unpopular appointment of a human world leader completely moot. But, while it might sound nice in fantasy, it does raise the question – How would humanity cope if aliens were to arrive on Earth? Particularly if the aliens’ intentions were unknown.
This, rather clunkily, leads me to this review for Arrival. the latest film by rising visionary director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario) and an adaptation of the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. Coming into this movie, I really wanted to love it, and….. I liked it a lot.
Arrival may be built upon some grand sci-fi concepts, but it really is the story of one woman – Dr. Louise Bell, played by Amy Adams. Louise is a highly respected professor of linguistics who is brought in by the military as a translator when 12 alien vessels park themselves around the globe, including in a field in Montana (those aliens, always going to the midwest). Louise is tasked with coming up with a method of communication with the aliens, whose intentions are unknown, in order to help the US government and the rest of the world’s leaders respond appropriately to the newcomers to the planet. But Louise is undergoing some traumas of her own, and this is compounding her ability to undertake the hardest task in her field – learning a completely unknown language.
As this story is the story of Louise Bell, so does this movie belong to Amy Adams. Adams is easily one of the best actors working in Hollywood today, with her output often being compared to the Academy Award assembly line Meryl Streep. Adams portrays a confused, often conflicted woman who nonetheless has a job to do and is determined to succeed, and it is almost inspirational in the way that she performs that. Not only that, but she’s done something truly important in my view – portrayed a smart, dedicated female academic in a role that doesn’t make a big deal about her gender. The role, and the film itself, merely takes it for granted that a woman can do these remarkable things and that’s exactly as it should be, but it is so rarely seen in Hollywood. With Arrival already resonating with science fiction fans, I’m hopeful that Adams’ performance here can inspire a whole new generation of highly intelligent young girls to get into academics, whether that is linguistics or any other field.
Sorry. Got all serious for a moment there. Here’s a dog making the 😛 face while wrapped in a towel to make up for it.
Also appearing in this film is Jeremy Renner as astrophysicist Ian, Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber, the military man in charge of the Montana landing site, and Michael Stuhlbarg as a skeptical CIA operative with little trust for the alien species. All of these cast members are fine, and perform to a level that we’ve come to expect. But they pale next to the awesome performance by Adams. (Fun fact, with those four primary cast members, Arrival has cast members from 4 of the year’s biggest hits – Amy Adams (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), Jeremy Renner (Captain America: Civil War), Michael Stuhlbarg (Doctor Strange) and Forest Whitaker (the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) This is not relevant to anything but I thought I’d share regardless).
Outside of Adams’ Oscar-worthy performance, there’s a lot of positives to come out of this movie. The direction, by Villeneuve, is phenomenal. The phrase “the next Spielberg” gets bandied about in Hollywood almost constantly, and the title probably already belongs to Christopher Nolan. But if Nolan isn’t the guy to take on the mantle then Villeneuve is. The guy has a number of brilliant films in his resume already and anyone who isn’t excited to see his take on next year’s overdue sequel Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t know what they’re missing out on.
Still, Harrison Ford is returning for a very overdue sequel again. “I have a bad feeling about this”.
(P.S. Yep, still making Kingdom of the Crystal Skull jokes over here. I like living in 2009)
The writing is also immensely clever. The plot description above doesn’t do the film justice, but to say anything more would be a spoiler. This is a story that you need to experience. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer has been openly promoting this film as a labour of love (the man reportedly spent 10 years of his life trying to convince film studios to make this film), and it’s clear that every single aspect of this screenplay was painstakingly researched.
But that leads me to the most disappointing aspect of this film. The writing is so clever thoughout the bulk of this film, that when the film basically uses a get-out-of-jail free card in the final act to get itself out of a situation, it feels doubly cheap. It was a resolution that I’d complain about in a generic blockbuster, and when the rest of the film has been of such a high quality it is incredibly deflating to me. From everything I’ve heard, I am in the minority here, but it left a sour taste in my mouth.
It is also worth noting that, while this didn’t bother me at all, this is a slow paced film. In the world of science fiction, this isn’t Independence Day, Star Trek Beyond or even Interstellar. Rather, it is more akin to Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Robert Zemeckis’ Contact. If you come in expecting an old-fashioned think piece, however, this film is going to be a real treat.
Overall, despite my disappointment with the ending, I’m still going to give this film a high score. If it weren’t for that ending, though, this would have been a perfect 5/5, so it really hurts that the last hurdle had a stumble.
4.7/5 – a wonderfully crafted film, and something you’ll hear a lot about come Oscar time.
It’s been a while since I’ve had to end a review with a farewell to an entertainer, but unfortunately it’s been rather a sad week, so I’d just like to pay my respects and applaud the life work of these 3 gentlemen:
- Robert Vaughn (1932-2016) – an actor perhaps best known for his TV work on The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Vaughn was also a prolific character actor throughout the 60’s and beyond, with notable roles in Bullitt and Superman III. Vaughn was also the last surviving of the seven actors who made up the original Magnificent Seven. RIP Robert Vaughn
- Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) – Cohen was a musician, singer and songwriter who rose to prominence in the 1960’s and was often compared to Bob Dylan. Best known for his hit songs such as “Hallelujah”, “First We Take Manhattan” and “So Long, Marianne”, Cohen’s music has played integral roles in many movies, not limited to Shrek, Watchmen and Natural Born Killers. A hugely popular name in the entertainment world, Cohen will be missed. RIP Leonard Cohen.
- Leon Russell (1942-2016) – Another highly respected musician, Russell was a quintessentially 70’s blues rocker who wrote highly influential hits like “A Song For You” and “Delta Lady”. In the film front, Russell’s music has been used in a number of films including The Kids are Alright and Juno, and he was also involved in two of the most influential concert films of all time – Mad Dogs and Englishmen, with frequent collaborator Joe Cocker and Concert for Bangladesh, with another frequent collaborator, George Harrison. Leon was a personal favourite of mine and will be missed by many. RIP Leon Russell.