Movie review: ‘Arrival’ looks at the nature of time
– It would probably be easy to look at a movie called “Arrival” that is about alien visitors and boasts a strong cast and think you’re getting a certain kind of movie. But this isn’t the sequel to “Independence Day” we wish we’d gotten this summer. This is a heady piece of art that asks bigger questions about life and doesn’t particularly care how you feel about its plot.
If you went to this movie expecting the typical story on aliens, it might be possible to come away somewhat disappointed. But if you wanted a fascinating movie that asks some hard questions about life and plays with our notions of time, you struck gold with “Arrival.”
We are in a season where we typically get deeper and more introspective films, and this is a prime example of that. And it’s a movie that could easily come up again come awards season.
The film centers on the arrival of ships from another world. They hover over 12 spots around the globe that feel seemingly random. One of those spots is over an isolated area in Montana, where the government has set up an outpost to try and connect with these beings.
A part of that team includes a master linguist, Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), and a decorated physicist, Dr. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), who are charged with making contact with the visitors. Every 18 hours the ship opens and allows guests in. The team under Louise and Ian tries to establish an understanding of language with the goal of trying to determine why the visitors have come and if they pose a threat.
Teams around the globe are trying to do the same, with information flowing back-and-forth. While the teams in Russia and China believe the visitors pose a threat, Louise thinks they’re simply misunderstood. In a race against time, she tries to decode their language and discover what the visitors are trying to tell her and the rest of humanity.
Last year director Denis Villenueve delivered a masterpiece in “Sicario.” It was a film built on a flawed but strong female protagonist that turned a familiar genre on its head, delivering a beautifully told story in an unexpected way. That almost fits “Arrival” perfectly as well.
It’s a film that’s beautifully shot, lovingly crafted and expertly told. It takes a kind of story you’re expecting and delivers something else entirely, doing so in a thought-provoking and meaningful way.
With “Sicario” I thought Emily Blunt delivered one of the finest performances of the year. Similarly, “Arrival” allows Adams to shine. Adams has been nominated many times and never won, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see her recognized for this film come awards season. She does a beautiful job in a complex role, serving as the entry way to this story that takes you some place unexpected.
The supporting cast – Renner, Michael Stuhlbarg and Forest Whitaker – does a fine job as well. This is a beautifully paced film whose story unfolds like a puzzle. It’s also a credit to screenwriter Eric Heisserer, who based the film on a story by Ted Chaing.
It begins with an introduction that leads you to believe you’re moving in a certain direction, but as the layers peel back you realize it’s something else entirely. It’s unlike any other film I’ve seen in this genre, and that’s a good thing. It’s a film that asks some interesting questions about the nature of time and the disappointments we face in our lives, and it’s something that sticks with you long after the screening ends. That’s the mark of an exceptional piece of art, which this film is.
“Arrival” has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for brief strong language.
Four stars out of four.