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Arrival Review

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For his follow-up to the critically acclaimed Sicario, director Denis Villeneuve is trying his hand at sic-fi with Arrival, a very different alien invasion tale which puts themes of communication and dealing with loss above the usual trappings of the genre, crafting a unique, intelligent and almost perfect take on the type of story that first came our way in the 1950’s and has been a stable of the genre ever since.


From the off, it’s apparent this movie is a much more grounded invasion that we’ve seen previously. 12 mysterious spacecraft suddenly appear one day in seemingly random places across the globe. There’s no earth shattering rumble or super weapon shot across Earth’s bow. A string of smart phone notifications announce this momentous occasion, just as it probably would if it happened in real life. The world’s governments are at a loss to what these visitors want, and trying to communicate with them proves impossible. Enter linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), who travels to one of the landing sites in Montana and is tasked with decoding the alien language. Yes, our hero is trained in studying communication rather than cracking alien skulls. As the story marches on, it becomes clear that whether or not these aliens pose a threat that it may not matter as constant miscommunication between other countries and their respective crafts pushes first contact closer towards all out war.

World politics and language studies may not sound incredibly riveting, but Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer (Lights Out, The Thing remake) make it work, deftly balancing the heady themes and emotion woven through the story with some truly gorgeous visuals and a rousing and unique score from Jóhann Jóhannsson. There are some very big ideas at play here, but they are presented in a simple, smart and digestible way. The audience’s attention is grabbed as soon as the film opens with journey through Louise’s life as a mother that rivals Up’s tear jerking opening. It may seem like an odd way to begin an alien invasion tale (and had this reviewer thinking he was in store for another Contact), but how it plays into the overall story is clever and heartbreaking, adding plenty of meat to the narrative and coaxing a fantastic performance from Adams, one that you dare not take your eyes off lest you miss any of nuance of her richly developed character.


Time is taken with setting up the larger story, but once Louise begins her discourse with the two alien representatives (dubbed Abbott and Costello by Jeremy Renner’s mathematician Ian Donnelly), it never really lets up. There is a lot technical jargon at times, and some leaps in logic rear their head at times, but watching her and Ian searching for the perfect sentence to discover these visitor’s intentions is delightfully compelling. The narrative does take a slight detour with a tacked on feeling subplot of one soldier reacting the wrong way to this unforeseen invasion that just fizzles away to nothing, but it’s soon back on track just in time for a finale that ties every hanging tread up in an incredibly satisfying way that won’t leave your brain feeling taxed.

A stirring sci-fi tale from start to finish, Arrival will set up house in your brain for days after viewing, and delivers the most satisfying and thought provoking slices of intelligent science fiction in recent years.






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