Saturday, November 12, 2016

"Arrival" Is Thoughtful And Cerebral Sci-Fi With A Timely Landing


Arrival could not have come at a better time. In the wake of this recent Presidential election that has invoked fear and hate amongst American citizens, it is nice to see a film where humanity comes together, trying to solve problems through rational thought rather than radical violence. Whether its timeliness was intended or not, though, remains as mysterious as the film's marketing.

Arrival is based on a short story called Story Of Your Life by Ted Chiang and follows the story of a linguistics professor named Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) who is called upon to investigate the arrival of several UFOs across the globe along with theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly played by Jeremy Renner and U.S. Army Colonel Weber played by Forest Whitaker. In order to figure out why the aliens have arrived, Banks, along with Weber and Donnelly, tries to decode their language.

One thing that is so genius about this film is how, even though it is a larger scale blockbuster, it has the intimate feel of an arthouse science fiction film. Mainly because director Denis Villeneuve chooses to focus more on the film's storytelling and has the visual effects used as an aid to it. That is the kind of science fiction movie I love to see. The kind where effects are visible but aren't a complete focal point. Not only that, but a good science fiction film has to have some kind of moral or message. Here it is about the power of words. Louise Banks, who's the heroine of the story, plans to work with the aliens by figuring out their language so that they can literally and figuratively understand each other. The film shows how if we act irrationally after receiving confused messages or put actions before words, it can lead to dire consequences.

While the film has an amazing cast, it is really Amy Adams' show. Throughout each scene, Adams is always giving us a glimpse into Louise's thought process through the use of her expressive eyes. She allows us to see when she timid, optimistic, vulnerable, and feelings that are too complex to describe. As an actress who reinvents herself with each performance, this is perhaps her best performance to date.

Along with Adams' performance, one thing that helps bring a lot of emotional heft is the score by Johann Johannsson which feels as if it is its own character with how it sets the mood for each scene. For example, when the main characters first enter the UFO, the music captures the mood of them entering an unceratin unknown territory. Also, while cinematographer Roger Deakins, who has become a Denis Villeneuve regular, is absent this time around, Bradford Young more than steps up to the plate. Some of my favorite sequences are the ones in the UFO where the aliens or encased in a bright white light yet are hidden in a grayish fog, capturing their uncertainty. Plus, the Malick-esque flashback sequences were all beautifully shot as well. Lastly, the sound work done with the alien language is some of the best I've heard all year.

Overall, Arrival is a masterful film anchored by Amy Adams' luminous performance that shows not only how innovative science fiction films can be, but reminds us about the power of words. The carefulness of what we say and our ability to provide reason and solve problems is a far greater tool than violent weapons and irrational action.

Grade: A+