The super-talented Denis Villeneuve gives us a visionary cinematic experience with his new sci-fi mystery ARRIVAL.
He’s done it again. Swiftly moving into the front ranks of one of my favourite directors, Denis Villeneuve has followed the scorching drugs drama Sicario – my favourite film of 2015 – with his new sci-fi mystery ARRIVAL.
12 alien spaceships land in various places on Earth and in an effort to ensure the inhabitants are not here to harm us, a team is assembled to make the first contact. That’s the premise but really it’s all about what it means to be human. Together with another gorgeous soundtrack from composer Johann Johannsson and striking photography courtesy of Bradford Young (A Most Violent Year and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints are some of his estimable credits), Villeneuve and his screenwriter Eric Heisserer have created a quite spectacular movie. Using Ted Chiang’s ‘Story of Your Life’ as a basis, we see how he proposes that we live or experience life in a non-linear way. Villeneuve isn’t one to shy away from big ideas and you get that big time with ARRIVAL.
“Now that’s a proper introduction.” says a breathless Dr. Louise Banks (the wonderful Amy Adams) when she encounters a breakthrough in communication with the aliens. Being a linguistics professor, she’s heading the first contact team having been recruited by Forest Whitaker’s softly spoken, serious Colonel Weber but she is actually using the mission to escape from her life which has recently known great tragedy.
Joining her in the team is Jeremy Renner’s theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly – a sharply witty boffin who holds contradictory ideas about science to Louise’s. They bicker and bond over the intricacy of the language the aliens’ display and make a formidable partnership when presented with the shadowy Agent Halpern (the brilliant Michael Stuhlbarg) who’s really in charge of the mission.
We see the vital work of Louise and Ian’s attempts to understand and communicate with the two aliens, Abbott and Costello as he humourously names them, played out against a backdrop of rising global fear, particularly from the military, as to the aliens’ intentions. It really feels this is what it would be like if visitors from another planet came to Earth. But Villeneuve never loses sight of his source material’s theory and as we move deeper into the story, he subtly increases the emotional power of Louise’s journey of discovery resulting in an affecting pay-off for us as the audience.
Villeneuve is working on an epic scope here but he handles it all with an enviable ease – the spaceships, the aliens themselves, the multi-channel feeds to the other landing sites, the science, the human story at its centre – which makes the fact that he’s helming the long-awaited sequel to one of the most landmark sci-fi films there is, Blade Runner, a tantalising prospect.
I found watching ARRIVAL a very emotional experience and reading some of the other critiques, I wasn’t alone. If you’re looking for an intelligent, passionately expressed story that will challenge you, then see this beautiful and astonishing movie.