When mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team - lead by expert linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) - are brought together to investigate. As mankind teeters on the verge of global war, Banks and the team race against time for answers - and to find them, she will take a chance that could threaten her life, and quite possibly humanity.
Review by Louise Keller:
In a breathtaking performance, Amy Adams grounds this hypnotizing sci-fi drama from Incendies director Denis Villeneuve, in which communication, purpose and time are key. Beginnings and endings intertwine like the mysterious symbols in the aliens' written language and Villeneuve masterfully creates intrigue on a grand and personal scale. Based on Ted Chiang's short story Story of Your Life, Eric Heisserer's screenplay fleshes out the action in a way that makes us feel as though we have witnessed something that is life changing. While the extra-terrestrial theme has been developed many times on screen (Close Encounters, Contact, Signs and Interstellar, to name a few), Arrival creates an almost spiritual feeling, bringing with it the weight of authenticity as we make our journey through the clear blue eyes of the story's vulnerable female protagonist.
The plot involves the arrival of a mysterious alien spacecraft in Montana (one of 12 worldwide) and the US army's recruitment of Louise Banks (Adams), a top linguist who has previously assisted the government when a Farsi translation was required. What happens is best discovered in the context of seeing the film; what is more interesting here is to describe is the way Villeneuve creates the mood as it crescendos to the main action.
In the opening establishment scenes, there is a sense of normality as we meet Banks teaching university students the origins of Portuguese ('Language is the foundation of civilization'). Forest Whitaker's brusque Military Intelligence Colonel acts as the bridge on which we venture with Adams and Jeremy Renner's newly recruited theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly. The camera is behind Adams' shoulder and she enters the army base by the cloud-encased giant spaceship, with its medical tests, briefings, and protective gear. Everything rolls out in slow motion. Our first impression of the aliens ('does anyone else have trouble using that word?') is reflected in the face of Adams' astronaut-like mask, although it is the expression on her face that mesmerizes.
We can see every freckle on Adams' vulnerable face in tight close up, contrasted by wide angled shots of everything else that is going on, as world affairs impact. After all, this is a world 'with no single leader'. The process by which Adams and Renner (in a minor role) try to communicate and discover the alien Heptopods' purpose and intention is fascinating to watch. Creating atmosphere is Bradford Young's dreamy cinematography with its cloudy hues while composer Johann Johannsson's eerie and eclectic soundscape keeps us constantly out of our comfort zone.
The emotional heart of the film (seen in beautiful flashback) is Bank's personal story involving her young daughter; these scenes are the most effecting, yet potentially could be the most divisive as the story reveals itself. As an exceptional director, Villeneuve has the skill to pull it off.
Email this article
CAST: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mar O'Brien, Tzi Ma,
PRODUCER: Shawn Levy, David Linde, Karen Lunder, Aaron Ryder
DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve
SCRIPT: Eric Heisserer (short story by Ted Chiang)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Bradford Young
EDITOR: Joe Walker
MUSIC: J—hann J—hansson
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Patrice Vermette
RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 26, 2016