STORY: 12 mysterious UFOs touch down across the globe at seemingly random locations. A team headed by linguistics expert Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) is brought together to investigate these UFOs and their intent, in a race against time as the world perceives them as a threat to humanity.
REVIEW: If the synopsis sounds like a typical bombastic sci-fi blockbuster, prepare to be pleasantly surprised. Armed with an outstanding screenplay by Eric Heisserer, and based on a short story by Ted Chiang titled ‘Story of Your Life’, director Denis Villeneuve creates an atmosphere of global dread with barely an explosion. The strength of Chiang’s story is so powerful that Villeneuve could probably replace the lead actors with most other Hollywood A-listers and still have the same impact.
Not to detract from Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner though. Both deliver skilfully measured performances and Adams showcases a poignant range that provides the emotional backbone to the plot. Forest Whitaker however, is relegated to the generic army colonel tasked with figuring the objective of the aliens’ presence. He approaches Dr. Banks who previously helped him translate communication between insurgents. Along with Ian Donnelly, they approach one of the spaceships to contact the alien beings and establish a form of dialogue with them. Their interactions with the alien creatures are interspersed with flashes of Dr. Banks’ relationship with her daughter, which initially appear to be haphazard and irrelevant. But there’s an underlying connection between the intimacies of her life and the threat posed by a world at the brink of war, fearing hostile intent from the otherworldly visitors.
While the logic behind how the linguistics expert manages to decipher the alien language is fuzzy at best, the true purpose of these intelligent extra-terrestrial beings is a jaw-dropping reveal that warrants a repeat viewing to find all the breadcrumbs left in the lead up to the crescendo. Bradford Young’s soothing cinematography and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s hypnotic score lend more weight to all the emotional beats laid out by Villeneuve’s mastery of the craft. Don’t let the deliberate pacing dissuade you; ‘Arrival’ makes you ponder the implications of time, love, life, and death, and the co-relation between communication and the human experience long after the credits roll, making it one of the unmissable films to watch this year.