Amy Adams stars as Louise Banks, a linguistics professor who is tasked with learning to communicate with mysterious aliens who have landed in 12 gigantic spaceships. Whilst nervous nations lean towards an attack on the aliens, Banks becomes the last hope to prevent war.
“the film has a sustained intensity which keeps you hooked”
Arrival effortlessly weaves complex ideas and poignant themes together, whilst still making for an entertaining science fiction film. At first glance Arrival may seem to be just another story about first contact with aliens, but there is another, quite sophisticated, layer to the film which will surprise those unfamiliar with the short story upon which it is based. This inner depth suggests ideas around how language affects our perception of the world, and even some deterministic notions. There is a big revelation in the film that really exposes this layer for all to see, and whilst this discovery will likely be predicted by more observant viewers, it is still powerful and succeeds in making you really appreciate the intricacies of the film.
Where Arrival really excels is that it does not get weighed down in its more complicated plot points. The film has a sustained intensity which keeps you hooked despite the distinct lack of action or violence that some Sci-fi fans may expect. This tension is largely thanks to an unsettling score and some stunning cinematography. The scenes where Louise Banks and her team first enter one of the spaceships are simply breath-taking and a great example of when the visuals and music within a film complement each other perfectly.
“adams manages to be both fragile and strong”
Amy Adams’ performance is magnificent and this is quickly demonstrated in the first scene which manages to be quite emotional even though we have no real knowledge of the characters at that point. Adams manages to be both fragile and strong throughout which makes Louise Banks a multifaceted character who is subsequently a very intriguing heroine.
It is a challenge to pick faults in Arrival, but there are a couple of very minor scruples. Jeremy Renner is a satisfactory presence as Ian Donnelly, a military astrophysicist. Despite his large amount of screen time, Renner never has a particularly memorable scene that defines his character. Whilst this understated performance does work, it feels like there was the potential for a bit more. Furthermore, to sustain the film’s impressive intensity, the filmmakers unfortunately resort to a dull voice over sequence mid-way through the film that speeds through some of the plot. Overall, this choice probably does benefit the intense pace of the film. But considering how masterfully the other aspects of the film were dealt with, I was surprised a more creative method of handling this part of the plot was not devised.
However, these immaterial problems do not detract from what is, honestly, an incredible film. Arrival presents heavy emotional themes and presents some complex ideas in a way that does not alienate audiences. The most impressive aspect, however, is that Arrival achieves all this whilst being utterly captivating from start to finish.