Denis Villeneuve, the acclaimed director behind Sicario, Enemy and Prisoners, returns with intelligent sci-fi drama, Arrival, writes Natalie Stendall.
Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a translation expert, employed by the US government to understand the language of aliens making first contact with planet Earth.
Arrival is slow-burning, but its cavernous ideas about language, time, space and the human psyche are delivered with copious atmosphere and tension.
The mathematical concepts Villeneuve weaves into the action are of the kind usually found in the work of Christopher Nolan (Inception, Interstellar) but Villeneuve isn’t a copycat and Arrival oozes with his own unique style.
While the alien genre often makes the mistake of showing us too much, Villeneuve holds back. First the alien craft and then the aliens themselves are revealed by small degrees. Their speech is an unconventional, chilling melody of rumbling bass that morphs in and out of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s unnerving score.
Villeneuve’s alien Heptapods land in 12 different locations around the world. While Hollywood routinely privileges the western world with first contact, Villeneuve asks what might happen if first contact is made in China, Russia or Pakistan. Arrival is an intriguing experiment in paranormal realism that absolutely pays off.
The film is about communication on a more relatable level too. Villeneuve outright rejects the predictable genre flick where the US President speaks for the world, instead forcing world leaders to work together in delivering a global response. Arrival’s politics is timely.
Faced with the collapse of globalisation, the rise of protectionism and isolationism in the climate of Brexit and Trump, Arrival’s exploration of the complex issues facing world leaders in the light of global crisis is fascinating. There’s a perceptive message here about the value of working together that’s even more relevant today than Villeneuve could have imagined when filming began back in summer 2015.
Arrival is further bolstered by its connection of the supernatural with the personal. As the film opens, we see Dr Banks lose her daughter to a rare disease. Her grief and love penetrate all aspects of Villeneuve’s story as Amy Adams gives us yet another award-worthy performance.
Neither should Jeremy Renner, as mathematician and scientist Ian Donnelly, go without mention. The stellar duo are responsible for all personal interaction with the Heptapods in scenes that are both intense and warm.
As Denis Villeneuve turns his attention to the sequel of cult hit Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, its well worth revisiting his excellent filmography. Arrival is a gripping, thought provoking, politically expedient must see.
Arrival is showing in cinemas nationwide from 10 November 2016