"Arrival" (2016)- Movie Review

Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Written by Eric Heisserer (based on short story by Ted Chiang)
Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker

‘A Spellbinding Spectacle’

So far, 2016 has proven to be a disappointing year for movies. Although it has had it’s high points, for the most part it has proven that Hollywood is running out of ideas. There have been plenty of comic-book movies, sequels and blockbusters that have attracted audiences to theaters. Yet, what has been missing from these films is a sense of originality.

You rarely ever come across original movies these days. Most studios avoid making them because they are a bigger risk and less likely to attract audiences to the theater.

Every once in a while, however, there comes a film that is so original that it blows you away. You are left to wonder, why doesn’t Hollywood make these kinds of films anymore? This year, that film is Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival”. Arriving at a time when Hollywood is desperately in need of originality, this is a science-fiction film that will be talked about for years to come. Smart, thought-provoking and gripping from start to finish, it keeps the viewer engaged through it’s thoughtful themes rather than action. Unlike most big-budget blockbusters, “Arrival” is a thinking man’s movie that stays with you long after you leave the theater.

Based on the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, “Arrival” focuses on how the human race copes with the unexpected arrival of aliens on Earth. Amy Adams stars in the leading role as Dr. Louise Banks, an extremely gifted linguist who is recruited by the military to encode the alien’s language. In order to figure out why the aliens have landed on Earth, she must race against time in a journey that will forever change her life.

At a first glance, this may seem like the set-up for a typical alien-invasion movie. Aliens arrive on earth, pick a bone with the humans and all hell breaks lose. Just when you think you know where it’s heading, however, “Arrival” throws you off guard. Although this is a film in which aliens invade earth, one thing you should know going in is that there is hardly any action. Instead, Denis Villeneuve builds tension and suspense through the mystery behind the story. “Arrival” isn’t really about aliens as much as it is about the humans that are working together in an effort to solve a problem. Denis Villeneuve has crafted a complex film that explores themes such as time, loss and death in a way that few sci-fi movies ever do.

If there is anything that director Denis Villeneuve is an expert at, it’s creating suspense and tension. Although it isn’t until the half-hour mark that we are introduced to the aliens, “Arrival” keeps you at the edge of your seat from start to finish. Instead of relying heavily on action, Villeneuve uses breathtaking visuals and haunting music to build tension. Visually, “Arrival” is one of the most stunning films you’ll see this year. The breathtaking cinematography creates a dark and eerie atmosphere which immediately sucks you in. This is perhaps most evident in the scene in which Dr. Louise Banks first meets the aliens. Beautifully shot and accompanied by unsettling music, this scene alone makes “Arrival” a must-see.

In addition to the breathtaking visuals, “Arrival” is worth watching for the superb performances given by an impressive cast. Every actor is at the top of their game, but ultimately the film is a showcase for leading lady Amy Adams. As a mother who is dealing with a heartbreaking tragedy, Adams delivers her most emotionally resonant performance to date. It’s a challenging role as it requires the actress to tap into heavy emotions and be vulnerable, however, Adams is perfectly cast. She is believable as both a loving mother and an intelligent linguist. Hopefully, her work in this film won’t be forgotten come awards season.

Thanks in large part to Amy Adams’ moving performance, “Arrival” is a surprisingly emotional film that tugs at the heartstrings. Although the film has been advertised as an alien invasion movie, ultimately it’s an intimate story about communication. Unlike most science-fiction films, it challenges the viewer to think and pay close attention. If there is a downside to this, it’s that “Arrival” may not appeal to everyone. The film’s mind-boggling plot coupled with it’s slow pace may test the patience of mainstream audiences. Those looking for an action-packed ride will be disappointed, because this is a thoughtful and reflective film that takes it’s time to unfold.

If I had a minor gripe with “Arrival”, the film suffers from an ambiguous ending that leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Instead of tying up loose ends, the film ends abruptly with a shocking twist. Although it is somewhat confusing, it sparks a lasting discussion and makes you want to talk about the film soon after it ends.

Despite it’s flaws, “Arrival” is an intelligent and thought-provoking science-fiction film that deserves to be seen. While it may not appeal to mainstream audiences, it is an original, extremely unique film that you don’t come across often today. In a day and age when Hollywood seems to be running out of ideas, it’s reassuring to be reminded every now and then that movies like “Arrival” are still getting made.

4/5 stars

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