After an unbelievably tense traffic sequence on film, Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario was a big runner in the Oscars last year. And this year he’s back with the highly anticipated science-fiction thriller Arrival. And it’s no surprise with his talent that there are already smatterings of Oscar contention for Villeneuve again.
This time it’s Amy Adams taking the central role as Dr. Louise Banks, a top class linguist enlisted to help decipher a message from these weird pebble-shaped objects hanging in the sky. But already within the five minutes, Villeneuve and Adams have already broken our hearts in scenes that are uncannily similar to the opening sequence in Up.
The way in which the pebble-ships are introduced is interesting, as Dr. Banks is distant to the seemingly important news that has everyone crowded around the television screen and actively disrupting her class on Portuguese. She brushes off their existence until she is asked to help decipher their mysterious message by Colonel Weber (Forest Whittaker) with the help of Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) a theoretical physicist.
Rather than immediately focusing on the aliens inside the pebble-ship, Villeneuve focuses on the overcoming of the language barrier between the crew and the heptapods (aliens). Villeneuve also cleverly includes the processes of learning language, as Dr. Banks breaks down her plan to Colonel Weber who seems less than convinced with her approach.
When it comes to end of the filmmaking calendar, questions regarding a films Oscar contention begin to enter the fray and these questions about Arrival are 100% justified. Villeneuve is proving again he has the chops, but alas has been left empty-handed thus far. This could very well change with Arrival. It has to be said that Amy Adams is in strong contention with her strong and believable performance as Louise Banks, as the focus never shifts from her character she maintains the narrative superbly.
Although he has previously shown a knack for creating unbelievably tense sequences in Prisoners and Sicario, Villeneuve managed to incorporate some awe-inspiring shots that were simply wonderful to watch unfold on screen, including the below shot of the pebble-like ship in Montana. This only adds to the enjoyment on screen and is replicated when we take a trip around the globe to see the other ships.
The story is excellently fed through the screen and left me wanting to know more about everything to do with the films backstory from the linguistics, to the heptapods and to the other eleven pebble-ships and their positioning. How close the film is kept to the original material by Ted Chiang, I do not know, but it has left me eager and wanting to know more.
Although a big chunk of this film revolves around these heptapod beings, it doesn’t feel like it’s closely fixated on this subject, as Villeneuve manages to capture the effect this task has on Dr. Banks but also the inability of the World’s top nations coming together at a crucial hour. Amy Adams as Dr. Banks pulls in an excellent performance as she becomes wearier and increasingly unsettled with flashbacks of the opening scenes. It’s a believable performance as she remains headstrong in her approach and drives the film forward as the central figure.
As the twelve ships converse with their countries counterparts, information is withheld between the countries, when it should be shared and with it comes a sense of suspicion driven by the Chinese. The Russians begin to follow suit and take aim at the ships, causing disarray between everyone all over the world.
Arrival is a delight because everything in this story works and leaves us wanting more throughout the elaborate unwinding of the true nature of these ships and why they have arrived. This unravelling also brings forth a rather interesting twist in the narrative that really works and fits superbly. I have often found science-fiction plot twists weak, or laughable, but with Arrival it fitted perfectly tonally and narratively with the story.
Villeneuve has continued his powerful filmmaking exploits with Arrival and is quickly becoming one of the top directors to look out for. Sicario was a phenomenal piece of film, and Arrival could’ve have easily been two hours longer and still been just as enjoyable. As it stands at around an hour and forty minutes, it’s of perfect length and I wouldn’t be surprised come Oscar nominations if Arrival is the hot tip.