By Mark Saldana

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

Though not as ambitious nor extravagant in its presentation as Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, director Denis Villeneuve’s (Prisoners, Sicario) Arrival still manages to accomplish more by succeeding where Nolan falters–in the more emotional beats of the story.  Based on the short story, “The Story of Your Life,” by Ted Chiang, screenwriter Eric Heisserer and Villeneuve have created a truly magical film that has a strong grasp on its character and story development, and will certainly stir the emotions of anyone who experiences it.  It is also a film that may cause audiences to question certain events in the film, but in a way that leads to analytical and intelligent discourse.  

Amy Adams stars as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist professor, tapped by the U.S. government for assistance when multiple extraterrestrial spacecraft land across the globe.  With humanity unaware of the aliens’ intentions and a language barrier to overcome, Banks and mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) join a massive team of military, scientists and other experts all over the world who work together to communicate with the visitors, or, at the very least, figure out  if they pose a threat.  As Dr. Banks and Donnelly slowly make some progress in their communications with the aliens, other nations, through possible miscommunication, feel threatened by the extraterrestrials and prepare for global war.

Following the critical successes of thrillers Prisoners, Enemy, and Sicario, Denis Villeneuve takes a stab at science fiction and has created another masterpiece.  With previous films of a darker and bleaker tone in his filmography, the French-Canadian filmmaker shows a greater range with an even more cerebral allegory on human nature and what keeps humanity from being more unified on a global scale.  The director does exercise his superb skills in building up tension and suspense, but the surprises and payoff of Arrival are much different from his previous movies.  Working with Bradford Young as cinematographer and Johann Johannsson for the movie’s incredible score add the final touches of perfection to an already superbly written, executed, and performed movie.

I predict that the film’s screenwriter, director, and composer will receive nominations for awards next year.  This, of course, will be in addition to the nominations bestowed upon Amy Adams for best actress.  The movie also offers some notable performances by Jeremy Renner, Forest Whittaker, Michael Stuhlbarg and Tzi Ma.  Amy Adams, though, really is the heart and soul of this movie.  The movie is mostly presented through her character’s eyes and heart, with ties to other emotional events in her life.  Villeneuve presents these through cutaways that play out beautifully and hit all of the appropriate emotions.  Adams delivers what may be the best performance of her career so far, and her career is probably far from over.

The same goes for Denis Villeneuve, who continues to impress me with each film he makes.  I consider him to be one of the top filmmakers working today, and I feel much excitement and anticipation for his next movie–the long awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.  Now that he has proven that he can skillfully handle science fiction, and has already proven himself a master of thrillers, I am looking forward to what he has to bring to the science fiction, neo-noir world of Blade Runner.  Until then, I must highly recommend Arrival and his previous films (if one hasn’t already seen them) which are all fine examples of outstanding filmmaking and storytelling.


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