Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Movie Review: ARRIVAL (2016)

Arrival (2016). Dir: Denis Villeneuve. Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forrest Whitaker. PG-13.

I'm a big Amy Adams fan and I enjoy science fiction on screen, so this was probably shooting fish in a barrel for a me but by any standard Arrival is a knockout. It's based on a short story by Ted Chiang, who co-wrote the screenplay, called "The Story of Your Life." I kind of want to track it down.

Set in the more or less present day, it's about Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist recruited by the military to help translate and communicate with aliens who've come to Earth for reasons as murky as their murmured speech. Forest Whitaker plays Colonel Weber, her military liaison and ally, and Jeremy Renner is Ian Donnelly, a fellow scientist working alongside her.  They travel to Montana, one of twelve global landing sites, and chip away at the science of communication, while in the background panic is spreading and other nations threaten action.

There is more science fiction at work here than just the aliens. Along the way we experience distorted gravity, nausea-inducing visuals, ticking-clock suspense and the realization that we can be as unexpected as anything in a ship. But the aliens are something else. The high point for me was the slow reveal of their forms and the claustrophobic, crucial moments of first contact. I loved the way the filmmakers use music and sound to accentuate the suspense and drive emotional shifts, especially in white-hot moments like that. The pacing and tone almost have the flavor of a European art-house-type movie. And beyond the tech and science, Arrival is a deeply moving story about faith and the power of love.

Beyond that I don't have too much to say. I loved this movie and I think we'll continue to hear about it as Oscar season approaches. I'm intrigued to learn more about Canadian director Villeneuve but this movie belongs to Adams, and another great film in her canon it is.

Rating: RUSH