Arrival is a thought-provoking slice of cinema. However, this smart, streamlined plot is hampered by a plodding pace that severely curtails the proffered intellectual stimulation. Somehow, a film under two hours feels immensely longer. While the early narrative’s slow, decisive pace allows audiences to slowly unpack the mystery behind the alien visitors, the wait for a more fast-paced scene is never fully realized.
This film explores how humans would contact with aliens that landed mysterious spacecrafts across the globe. An expert linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) leads an elite team to investigate the other-worldly invaders. As mankind teeters on the verge of global war, Banks and the team race against time for answers and a new way to communicate.
Director Denis Villeneuve takes his time meticulously unpacking the screenplay based on the short story, “Story of Your Life.” This source material was very “intellectual,” as Villeneuve expressed anxiety with approaching the adaptation of a complex sci-fi story with “a lot of layers.” Undoubtedly, this extraterrestrial tale will not be confused with an action, blockbuster, due to the lofty ideas debated throughout the presentation, such as the intricacy of language, humans’ impending mortality, and distrust among divided nations. Somehow, Villeneuve has taken such a grand film and grounded it into reality through his unique style of “dirty sci-fi.” At moments, I really felt that the film was accurately portraying how the world would react to an unwelcome invader. While some characters express optimism towards the visitors, there will always be xenophobic caution due to the unknown purpose of the otherworldly denizens.
The film’s trajectory informs the narrative. Most of the meaningful scenes take place within the spaceship dubbed “the shell.” The unexpressed, simplistic spaceship presents an enigma that contrasts with other grandiose depictions. This extraneous naturalistic look enables viewers to more fully grasp the culture collide between the aliens and humans taking place within the ship. There is a significant brightness change from the dark unknown to the lighted enlightening. These tools accurately express human’s realization of its unlimited potential.
Amy Adams excels in the role as she expertly portrays the “heart of the story” that she fell in love with upon reading the script. While most of her role is straightforward, certain scenes are very challenging due to their procedural placement within the narrative. The film wisely chooses to keep the story intimate even though it takes place in a larger sci-fi universe. In a supporting role, Jeremy Renner (Ian Donnelly) is cast in a more intellectual role, playing well off of Adams. While there could’ve been better dialogue between the two veteran actors, the subtlety of their connection is conveyed on screen. Finally, Forest Whitaker is seldom used, but he is serviceable in his role as the military general.
Overall, Arrival is an interesting and unique film. It is a breath of fresh air to see such a risky project from a major film studio. While the viewing experience may be a trial for some, the payoff is worth the wait and an interesting experiment in filmmaking.