Director Denis Villeneuve
Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg
Released 10th November 2016
Part two of Amy Adams Fortnight starts this Thursday, but with a film that couldn’t be more different from Nocturnal Animals if it tried. Arrival comes from master storyteller, Denis Villeneuve, but after the bristling tension of Prisoners and last year’s Sicario, he’s moved in a different direction.
Languages professor Louise (Amy Adams) is recruited by the Army to help with a global issue. Alien crafts have landed in 12 locations around the world and large scale panic has broken out – looting, rioting, states of emergency. Nobody can communicate with the occupants of the ships so their reasons for being on Earth are a complete mystery. And the assumption is that they’re a threat.
That’s the bare bones of the narrative. Underneath is a stronger human dimension, but I won’t spoil it by telling you any more than that. All you need to know is that Louise has her own personal story and it’s one that influences her approach in communicating with the aliens. It also impacts on the ending, but I doubt you’ll guess how.
After the press screening, another movie hack walked past me, declaring on his mobile for all the world to hear that the film was “Malick meets Spielberg.” I don’t think so. For one, it unfolds at something more than sleepwalking pace and for another, it doesn’t have the wholesomeness of a Spielberg movie. What Villeneuve has done is take sci fi into new territory, setting it firmly in the present but stripping it of the slightest hint of glamour. Adams herself wears little or no makeup, looking pale and unwell, the army accommodation is spartan and the orange protective suits everybody wears when on the alien craft are uncomfortable and comically bulky. The ship itself is granite grey, we never see further than the chamber where the humans meet the aliens and it’s all very cold and minimalist. There’s no Scotty to beam you up.
Labelling Arrival a sci fi movie is so simplistic as to do it a disservice. Villeneuve gives us something closer to a thriller, a race against time to discover why the aliens have landed. But what leaves such an impression is the film’s intelligence – intellectual, creative and emotional – as well as the breadth and depth of its imagination and how it steers a deliberate path around all the clichés that go with the genre. It’s superbly made and would easily stand a second watch, especially when you add Louise’s personal story to the mix. And it brings out the best in Adams as the instinctive communicator having difficulty in adjusting to her new working conditions. It’s a performance which has to put her among the early front runners for the forthcoming awards season.
Villeneuve has done it again. Better still, he’s done it in a different way, and it inspires plenty of confidence in his next project, the already much-hyped Blade Runner 2049. We have until next year to find out if he can pull off a triple whammy.
Arrival is released in the UK on Thursday, 10 November and reviewed on Talking Pictures on the same day.