Arrival – Review (****)

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Denis Villeneuve further secures his claim as one of Hollywood’s most electrifying filmmakers with this refreshingly quiet, thoughtful sci-fi blockbuster that cleverly spins several plates at once while not falling prey to the overzealous trappings that damage so many ambitious entries into the genre.

Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a language expert who is approached by US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to help investigate the communications of one of a series of alien spacecrafts that have landed on Earth. Together with mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), the two will visit the alien structure and attempt to forge a line of communication between humanity and the extra-terrestrials.

Arrival is absolutely a film best viewed with as little knowledge as possible, so this review will be incredibly circumspect when it comes to spoilers or even intimating at certain thoughts or feelings the film might invite. It is an exceptionally intelligent, well-crafted film less concerned with explosive set-pieces and more with what the disturbing (yet potentially hopeful) human minutia of an alien invasion scenario might entail.

Eric Heisserer’s script goes deep into the nitty-gritty of communication and language, yet never ventures too far into overly heady realms, always painting a clear picture while not talking down to the audience. This is the bulk of the film, an increasingly desperate race to establish clear communication as other countries become panic-stricken about the aliens’ potential intentions.

Amy Adams gives one of the best performances of the year as an incredibly smart, driven woman who takes charge of an impossible situation, and the tricksier aspects of Arrival’s eventuality ensure she has to run the gamut of emotions before film’s end. Whitaker is also very good here as the hilariously impatient Colonel, and Renner gets one of his more interesting roles in a while as the team’s wise-cracking genius.

Needless to say that audiences probably won’t be prepared for or expecting the film’s ultimate surge of emotional heft; it is in the periphery from the beginning and executed with superb grace by Villeneuve, avoiding some potentially film-derailing pitfalls with a stunning resolution that will have audiences eager to watch the movie again as soon as possible.

While its patient approach won’t be to all tastes, Arrival is an extremely strong effort on all fronts, and if there were still any hold-outs worried that he might not be fit for the upcoming Blade Runner 2049, that seems even less likely now.

****

Arrival is in UK cinemas November 10th and US cinemas November 11th 

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