Arrival Review


Denis Villenueve is slowly becoming one of the best filmmakers out there in Hollywood. After hitting it big with Sicario, people were wondering what project Villenueve would take on next. Sicario 2? Another gritty film in the same vein as Prisoners and Sicario? Nope. Villenueve set his sights on science fiction with Eric Heisserer’s adaptation of Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life.” Does Villenueve continue the hot streak he’s on or does this shift in genres bring out his first misstep?

Fortunately, Arrival continues Villenueve’s hot streak of films. He’s able to delve into science fiction and create a film that’s easily one of the top five films of the year, and you’ll be sitting at the edge of your seat the entire time… That is if you can get past the slow pace of the film.

Arrival follows linguist expert Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) as they investigate why these alien creatures have arrived on Earth. However, as mankind teeters on the verge of intergalactic war, it is up to their team to break the code of the alien language before it is too late.


It’s best not to say any more about the film’s storyline because I wouldn’t want to rob you of the experience of seeing the film unfold. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer (Lights Out) smartly takes the focus away from the aliens and focuses primarily on the human characters. Taking inspiration from Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Heisserer gives us an accurate look at what might happen if we actually tried to communicate with these alien beings instead of fighting against them. There may not be lights and sounds involved, but Arrival still has that fresh mix of thought-provoking science fiction and character drama.

But this film belongs to Denis Villenueve as he brings an elevated form of storytelling to mainstream science fiction. The striking visuals by cinematographer Bradford Young and the ambient score by Jóhann Jóhannsson enhance the intelligent script by Heisserer. It’s a perfect storm of imaginative minds.

However, there will be those who might be put off by the very slow pacing of the film. For a complicated conceptual film, Villenueve uses most of the runtime on exposition and expands the plot at a deliberately slow pace, allowing audiences to enjoy the discovery in the same way the characters experience it. If you allow yourself to get caught up in the mesmerizing fantasy world that Villenueve has put forth then you’re in for a ride.


As for the cast, everyone provided a strong performance. Amy Adams is able to ground the film as someone with a cavalier spirit and passion. Adams also gives Louise Banks a compassionate and lonely side, as well. It’s a very mellow and multi-layered performance. Jeremy Renner provides a stark personality contrast to Adams’ character. He’s able to bring some of the same fun and coolness that he brought to Hawkeye to his performance as Ian Donnelly.

Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber is more of a supporting character here, but Whitaker instills Weber with a believable, no-nonsense, and experienced performance.Although they’re essential to the film’s overarching narrative, Michael Stuhlbarg and Tzi Ma gives solid performances in their small roles.

Despite its slow pace, Arrival is a film that any film aficionado will love. It’s gripping, fascinating and filled with unexpected twists and striking imagery. It abstains from all the genre tropes and does what many science fiction films try to do but rarely succeeds in: Forcing audiences to ponder the very things that define who we are. It’s a film that delivers a hopeful message and the type of film that is sorely needed during these troubling times.

Rating: 4.5/5 atoms
NR 4_5 Atoms - A-

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