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Film Review: Arrival


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When 12 spacecraft suddenly touchdown in various places across Earth, US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) calls for the expertise of linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to try and decipher the alien’s motives.

Looking at Arrival’s basic plot, it is easy to compare it to previous alien encounter films such as Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Burton’s Mars Attacks!, or Zemeckis’ Contact (the latter, in particular, has numerous similarities with it). However, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival manages to differentiate itself thanks to its more intimate storyline and setting.

It makes use of few locations and characters, letting Amy Adams shine as a linguistic expert still struggling with the death of her daughter. Although Jeremy Renner also gives a good, if underused performance as mathematician Ian, it is Adams’ subtle and warm turn that really helps the film feel more grounded and emotion-based rather than alien-based.

It is true that Arrival doesn’t focus on the aliens (called Heptapods) but more on the big questions their appearance brings about. Would the arrival of aliens bring about a sort of anthropocentrism? Should we attack to protect Earth and humans, or wait and try to understand the Heptapods’ motives? Russia and China opt for the former option.

The film also includes an interesting take on the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis which, briefly speaking, is the view that our language affects and limits the way we see and interact with the world. When Louise starts understanding the Heptapods’ language, her perception of time is changed.

It is there that the film starts to lose a bit of its consistency. The second half of the film feels a bit rushed and seems to skim through the explanation of the relationship between the Heptapod's language and time. Without spoiling anything, the ending’s reliance on a paradox seemed a bit like a deus ex machina and should divide audiences between amazement, confusion, and disappointment.

After Prisoners and last year’s Sicario, Arrival establishes Villeneuve as a talented director, who knows how to tackle big subjects in a grounded way, all the while making his audience think. The film’s slightly tensed atmosphere is reinforced by frequent collaborator Jóhann Jóhannsson’s soundtrack and Bradford Young’s (A Most Violent Year) cinematography .

Overall, Arrival is a refreshing take on the sci-fi genre. It's not a perfect movie, but a talented cast and crew make up its flaws and should reassure anxious sci-fi fans that Villeneuve should be able to tackle the upcoming Blade Runner sequel.

Arrival is out in the UK on 10th November. 



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