Gaining a stellar reputation from the brilliant Prisoners, Enemy and Sicario, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival was hotly anticipated from the start; guaranteed to be a brilliant new take on the classic alien invasion film. As expected, Arrival has some of the most tense, perfectly executed moments of any film this year but as a result, the lacking or conventional elements feel so much more prominent. When it’s good, its great yet it fails to keep consistent with these highs and thus fails to ascend to the ranks of Villeneuve’s other works.
Arrival may be about first contact but its greatest success is in its human core; Amy Adams is incredible as a woman forced to face the impossible with every moment of discovery or fear given weight. However, she truly is the only character given weight, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whittaker do their best but neither is given enough screen time to come close to Adams emotional depth. An uneasy tension underlies the film as the constant presence of the unknown is felt but Villeneuve smartly keeps the action centred to the perspective of Adams, adding to that human aspect missing from a lot of global invasion films like this. The film gets off to a poor start, offering a clichéd and conventional backstory for our protagonist that feels extremely forced in the narrative at that point. Yet as the story progressed, Arrival somehow fixed its own mistake, turning this negative into a mind-bending positive as the third act hits us and hits fast. Though the slow build-up of mystery and discovery is masterful, the final act feels strangely rushed and leaves us on a slight low compared to the earlier intensity created, particularly when Adams first enters the shells and makes contact with the unknown; a master class in building tension.
The beauty of this film cannot be understated with a low key but mesmerising visual style that gives both a grounded and grandiose aesthetic depending on the scene; the first view of the towering shells as we move across the misty hillsides and down to the human camp by its base seems to encapsulate this ‘realistic beauty’ as does the aliens unique form of communication.
Arrival is a complete and beautiful cinematic experience; a heart wrenching drama masked as an alien invasion film, Denis Villeneuve reaches both the inner most emotional core of Adams linguist Louise and the epic scale of vision necessary to bring weight to the unknown bearing down on the world. While not as tight as his other features, Arrival is regardless a stellar watch and certainly worthy of your time.