Vaulted forward by a powerhouse performance by Amy Adams, and supplemented by journeymen Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg, Arrival dares to conclude on a sombre and thinker’s note. It is a film that shuns the crescendo and aims for the silence … a film that preaches about language but finds its most telling scenes in silence and physical emotion. It is, in itself, speaking a unique form of cinematic language.
Arrival is a rare film that challenges its genre. In recent years the sci-fi genre has morphed, rather viscously and quickly, into something different. Gone are the truly profound science fiction films that challenge you to feel something. You don’t see the likes of ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ or ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ that often anymore. The current drink of choice is one laden with ginormous set pieces and bombastic finales seen in films like ‘Prometheus’ and ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’. Arrival is like the older, more mature sibling of modern cinema. It is one that embraces sci-fi but understands that it is a means to an end. Otherworldly stories are often laden with harsh reality.
In an actual reality where countries are spearheaded by selfish buffoons and dominated by narrow-minded lackeys, Arrival focuses on characters that branch out – characters that are progressive to their very core. Whilst we live in a world where race, gender and nationality fractures us, Arrival follows Adams’ Louise Banks; a character so accepting that she opens up to literal aliens and teaches them the best of humanity.
Arrival is a film that exists in the moments between sequences. Too often we watch films that feel rushed and/or claustrophobic; they are so preoccupied with setting up the next scene, the current one falls apart. Arrival isn’t like that. Sharp and meaningful dialogue moves the narrative forward but pauses of visual awe, character deterioration and sweeping direction tightly knit everything together. This is, perhaps, the only blemish against Arrival one can muster up; some lightness would be appreciated amidst the humanity and inhumanity.
Nevertheless, the director Denis Villeneuve continues to show why he’s putting veteran filmmakers to shame. The man knows how to make a dense movie and the man knows how to make you feel. He loves bending genre tropes and playing with emotions. Therefore, a film all about human emotion, communication and empathy was always going to be bread and butter for him.