Just when I thought the box office didn’t stand a chance in 2016, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker show up in this smart, beautiful, and haunting sci-fi film.
Directed by Canadian Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners), Arrival is based on a short story by Ted Chiang, called The Story of Your Life. The film stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker. When extra-terrestrial life forms in a shell-shaped ship begin to hover over twelve points on the planet, it’s up to Doctor Louise Banks (Adams), and scientist Ian Donnelly (Renner) to figure out what the visitors want. They work under the watchful eye of Colonel Weber (Whitaker), who, along with a number of soldiers, is ready to fight the aliens if they become volatile. Spliced in between their efforts are flashbacks of Dr. Banks interacting with her daughter (Abigail Pniowsky, Julia Scarlett Dan, Jadyn Malone).
I’d pegged Arrival as one of my box office ‘saving graces’ during one of the most recent episodes of the Close Encounters podcast. The film appealed to me on various levels: the cast, the premise, the social sciences aspects, the look and feel of the film – but never did I imagine it would surpass my expectations in all of these categories.
Let’s start with the actors: you have three here who take their craft seriously. Adams, Renner and Whitaker have all taken their turns at the Academy Award wheel, which means, hypothetically, this is a gimmie for a well-acted film. What impresses me about these three is that they work so well in these roles, perhaps it’s almost as if the short story was written with them in mind. Adams is the most breathtaking of the three; her performance is empathetic, smart, and at times, heart-breaking. Renner’s character is clearly engrossed in his work, but isn’t here to tell you he’s right about everything – which makes me appreciate him even more. I am a BIG fan of Whitaker, and it’s a good performance as a Colonel – but nothing that screams a repeat of The Last King of Scotland here.
Now, a warning to those who are looking for an escape: this is not a film that gives you an easy time. You’re going to have to do some heavy mental lifting to actually understand this movie – and once you get what’s happening in the back half, you’ll realize how smart it is. This is not your run-of-the-mill sci-fi film that’s been bogged down by gunfights and cheesy dialogue (read: Independence Day) – rather, it’s a film that requires your full attention – and bonus if you understand a few scientific concepts (I won’t tell you which ones; the movie will reveal that for you if you go to see it).
As for the film’s look and feel, it has some of the same kind of feel you may have experienced with movies like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, though I would attribute that to the lighting and colour choices. Pale colours, along with blues and greys are dominant in this film. This conveys a sense of ambiguity – which will serve the viewer well if they’re paying attention. Special effects are amazing – though one scene towards the end of the film involving just Adams and the heptapod aliens was a bit too much for me – where stretching the imagination is concerned.
Nevertheless, that aforementioned fault is minimal in the grand scheme of things, and Arrival is easily one of the best films of the year. I may actually go back and watch it again. A talented cast, production team, and director with a vision – you can’t go wrong picking this to see in theatres any day of the week.
A solid five shell ships out of five for me – and, dare I say it – my favourite film of the year so far.
Oh, and by the way – that song you hear throughout the movie? It’s called “This Bitter Earth” by Dinah Washington, originally came out back in 1960, and you may have also heard it in Shutter Island back in 2010. If you prefer, it was also in the 1978 film Killer of Sheep.
(You’re welcome, it was bothering me, too.)