Film Review – Arrival

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Like Rorschach inkblots that seven legged alien creatures use to communicate with the human race in Denis Villeneuve’s new film “Arrival”, the unfolding events require a good deal of deciphering.

The film opens with Amy Adams as linguist Dr Louise Banks questioning the accepted idea of time as we see the life of her young daughter flash before our eyes.

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Banks appears to be struggling to cope with the death of this child from illness, and it is a concise few minutes that efficiently flesh out her character before we get onto the business of the titular “Arrival”.

A dozen dark baguette shaped monoliths have arrived on Earth, at various destinations across the globe.

Theories as to the method of their dispersion range from locations with low lightning strikes to countries where Sheena Easton had a number 1 hit in the 1980s.

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It is a serious story, with Forrest Whittaker as a po-faced Army Colonel Weber recruiting Banks early on to help translate the alien transmissions, but there are numerous occasions where we are encouraged to laugh and this helps make the film more human.

I may be missing something, but I had high expectations of this film, and it felt like it fell frustratingly short of what I was hoping for.

The packed media screening I attended is a testament to the appeal of Villeneuve’s last film Sicario which earned three Oscar Nominations.

With so many “First Contact” films coming before it, Arrival needed to offer something new and it certainly does that.

After arriving at the U.S. site in a large field in Montana, Banks and mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) are whisked up into the monolith’s underbelly via a cherry picker, before gravity dissipates and they are able to walk the walls into a large inner chamber.

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Wearing cumbersome bright orange Hazmat suits and accompanied by a few soldiers with recording gear, the two boffins get to work attempting to communicate with the pair of creatures they dub Abbott and Costello who are behind a transparent wall waiting for the humans to engage with them.

The creatures are striking, like a the heel of a human foot with seven tentacles, or an octopus with no eyes, these “Heptapods” communicate with unintelligible sounds and ink blots that Banks must decipher ASAP, as other countries are not providing intel on their own progress with understanding the alien visitors, and military engagement is a very real and immediate threat.

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As Banks works with Donnelly, she begins to experience what appear to be flashbacks to life with her daughter, but as the film unfolds, we understand that SPOILER ALERT she can see the future.

The film strives for greatness and reaches it in parts. The performance from Adams is excellent and in tune with her character, but unfortunately Renner generally annoys me, as the weakest member of the Avengers and also the worst spy in the Bourne Universe. He was good in Kill The Messenger and in Arrival he is certainly enjoyable to watch, but he always seems a bit wet to me. That is actually useful here.

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Whittaker is such a distinctive looking actor, capable of a good range of performances, but here he is not given a great deal to do except play a textbook uniformed figure of authority.

Based on the Science Fiction Short Story “Story of your Life” by Ted Chiang the film does feel like a short story that has been fleshed out into a feature film.

Fleshing out a short story into a feature film is a hit and miss experience, but screenwriter Eric Heisserer has done an admirable job to keep the action moving and Villeneuve is a gifted director.

Overall though it fell short of being the masterpiece I was expecting, rather an enjoyable enough distraction to pass a couple of hours.

It is getting high praise from all corners of the globe, so perhaps you’ll like it better than I did.

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gives it 4 stars, but he also gave Interstellar 3 and Midnight Special just 2, whilst I LOVED both those films.

As referenced by Dave Calhoun in his review for Time Out London, the slick imagery of the film bodes well for Villeneuve’s next project Blade Runner 2049.

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Amy Adams is on a roll with Justice League in post-production and Nocturnal Animals not far off and this is a solid effort for her.

3 & ½, Strives for the Stars.

 

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