Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a linguist who teaches at a College. One day, twelve giant spacecrafts appear in random locations across the world overnight. Louise's skills make her a requirement for the U.S forces, who recruit her - and mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) - to attempt to decode and translate the language that the creatures inside the spacecrafts are using in order to prevent a global war. Alien invasion films have, frankly, been done to death. Arrival's script - penned by Eric Heisserer and adapted from Ted Chiang's short story "Story of Your Life" - is ingenious in that it finds an entirely new angle to focus the whole thing on. Rather than start a war and depict the bloodshed and trauma of an alien invasion, Arrival focuses on the struggle to communicate with the creatures (dubbed "Heptapods"), and what the aftermath of this could lead to should it not go to plan. The whole thing is pieced together like a piece of art - the performances, dialogue, cinematography, soundtrack, screenplay, editing and direction all form one elegantly structured whole. It's a simply astonishing feat of film making.
Arrival finds strength in just about everything it is comprised of. It does this to such an extent, in fact, that it's almost impossible to break it down into individual pieces. Amy Adams is superb here, giving a subdued but deeply moving performance. A lot of the film rests on her shoulders for its twists and turns to stick the landing, but she carries it without breaking a sweat. Never given any big Oscar-esque moments, Adams tells Louise's story in her softest moments and through her body language. It's an astoundingly delicate performance. Renner is also solid, and accompanies Adams nicely, even if he can't help but feel woefully overshadowed. Louise as a character is the film's most exciting element - a woman that uses her knowledge and skills to change the world in ways it has never been changed before, all of which comes down to language. When Arrival ends, you will spend hours thinking about yourself and the language you speak and use every day. The potential behind this story was astronomical, and it delivers in spades.
Much like in his previous film Sicario, Villeneuve has created a masterful aesthetic in every way. The film's soundtrack, courtesy of the terrific Jóhann Jóhannsson, is a sublime array of thumping horn arrangements and softer pieces. The cinematography (by Bradford Young) is breathtaking, bringing in references and odes to other sci-fi classics (notably 2001: A Space Oddysey) but successfully acting as a perfect match to the tone of each sequence. The flashback sequences focused on Louise's young daughter look and feel like forgotten memories, while the moments inside the spacecrafts feel entirely alien. The production design is stunning, the large pitch black objects hovering over the cities feel instantly dark and foreboding, and the brief sights of the creatures we're given reveal something wholly original. In terms of technicalities and aesthetic, Arrival is a thing of beauty - a unique, visually resplendent film that you never want to take your eyes off of.
But where Arrival hits perfection, though? The emotion. The power behind the story, and the direction the story takes in its tremendous final act. This is what makes Arrival such a phenomenal film. It sets up a story (an already thought-provoking and well paced one, at that), and then smoothly transforms into something much bigger than you could ever have expected it to be. Another stroke of ingeniousness is that the film doesn't do this in one movement. Rather than drop one bombshell and change its direction, Arrival slowly sets up a series of events, then puts them in motion one by one, binding everything neatly around its central character. Y'know that feeling you get when an absolutely killer plot twist lands? Arrival will give you that feeling for the entirety of its final act. It is, of course, entirely possible to work out where it is headed. I did, as a matter of fact, and it just made the whole thing feel that little bit more special. You either work it out and watch as it comes to life before your eyes, or you cluelessly dedicate your time to its finale and feel mesmerised at each and every turn. Whichever you experience, it is wonderful.
Arrival is a film that feels thrilling in its own unique little way. When it ends, and you discuss it for hours (which is inevitable), you'll find yourself not focusing on the aliens. You'll be focusing on the emotional power of it all, on the human side of the story. I've deliberately left a lot out of this review, just to avoid spoiling the direction the film takes in its final act. The power behind the constant twists and turns is game changing; it proves that science fiction can be, despite what the name might imply, the most human genre to make a film about. Arrival has some stunning imagery and effects to play around with, but instead it focuses on language and conversation. It focuses on humanity and time and memory, and all that is worth fighting for on this planet. It is a breathtaking achievement, and one I already cannot wait to experience countless times again. In a year riddled with emotionless superhero films and crude comedies, Arrival is a godsend. Villeneuve has been on the verge of a masterpiece for the last few years, and he has finally landed it. Arrival is a film for the ages. Seek it out at all costs, and let it transport you across time and space only to bring you back down to Earth, evoking a feeling you may never have experienced before. This, people, this right here is why I adore cinema.
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