Monday, November 14, 2016

Arrival Review

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast Headliners: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forrest Whitaker
Original Release Date: November 11th, 2016

                 Without much prior pomp or circumstance, Arrival … arrived into theaters to resounding critical praise. Based upon Ted Chiang’s short story, the movie is about an aliens coming to modern day of our planet. But unlike many films of its type, there is no laser battles or an immediate race to save the world. The film is a puzzle to be solved through a philosophical journey that is not without its sequences of awes and excitement. This all happens from an interesting lens and logical perspective that is not often seen in movies of the genre.
                The film follows from day one as 12 “shells” (black obelisk type floating alien mega aircraft) descend onto the world in various locations. The world feels a sense of panic but moreso in the form of uncertain dread.  Into this situation, Dr.Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a brilliant linguist is tapped by the US military under Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) alongside physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to solve the mystery of the shells and the alien organisms within.  
                The film does a fantastic job at creating a mysterious atmosphere as the shells and their denizens are met and explored. The majority of the film only, and effectively, takes place at one shell site in Montana.  The alien ship feels very real inside despite its almost weird magical properties. So too are the alien “heptapods” mysterious in every encounter, awe inspiringly giant squids that moreso invoke beautiful awe than any more than minimal terror.
                The movie’s themes tackle some fascinating and likely true points. If aliens came to our world, how would nations react? How would human beings react to literally meeting intelligent beings from another world? There’s are explored with deft and sense.  But the core, intriguing idea is to involve language. Whereas many sci-fi films would tap some form of military person or special agent, Adam’s Louise solves the important process of language through surreal visual puzzles. This is a true concern not just for extra-terrestrial cultures but for those on our own world. The movie has powerful themes of the importance of communication.  It’s very neat to see how the puzzles are solved, and while it can be a bit repetitive and lulls in the middle as compared to the first expedition and exciting climax, it does make one think and go “ah!”
                It’s a joy to see Adam’s performance as Louise, as she brings sincerity and wit to the role. The work takes a toll on her, and we see glimpses of lost loved ones to raise the dramatic stakes. Likewise, Renner’s Ian offers slight comic relief and plentiful friendly charm and answers as he works alongside. Most of the cast isn’t anyone notable within the film itself or in casting. Government tie ins in Whitaker’s Colonel or CIA Agent Halper (Michael Stuhlberg) make things serious but don’t show up often. The same can be said for the slightly, but perhaps purposefully disconnected, “antagonist “ in China’s General Shang (Tzi Ma).  The movie does well when it focuses on the core group of the two main leads and their aliens.
                The deep narrative gets better and better as the film goes on. Director Denis Villenueve weaves together news footage, CGI yet realistic creations, flashbacks, and other time lapses to tell the tale. The music also adds well to the ambience, sounding alien in its use of vocals with its orchestrations.  It has a solid level of cinematography and visual craft. However by the end, its twist have an emotional resonance but in retrospect is derivative of such works as those by Christopher Nolan (particularly Interstellar and Inception) but this doesn’t reduce their drama.

                For a film about the language of aliens, the movie tells a very philosophical tale of the relationship of humans.  It’s a mostly unique and interesting ride, and for fans of the genre is worth the time if they have it to spare.  8.45 out of 10

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