Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival stars Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, a highly regarded linguist who teaches a college class but also has high-grade security clearance for the occasional occurrence when Uncle Sam needs her linguistic talents. When twelve spaceships land on Earth, she is brought in to find a common language so that everyone can understand each other. Why are they here? What do they want? What are their intentions? Do they mean us harm?
Arrival opened to fantastic reviews scoring a 100% for about a week. It still holds at an excellent 96% which is terrific and that is hard to do. I had read up on the kind of alien film this is. One thing it is not is Independence Day. That was fine with me since I am not a fan of the Independence Day films. This is not an action feature. There is virtually no action in Arrival and I appreciated this film on several levels, most notably that it is different in its approach. But when it was over, Arrival disappointed me. Sorry, but I have to be honest. Now, I will say I did like it more than the friend I saw the film with. Needless to say, he hated it.
Arrival features an Oscar-worthy performance by Amy Adams. Without revealing any spoilers, she suffers a tragedy in the first part of the film and it wrecks her. She is an emotional mess, understandably but Adams never overreaches to yank sympathy out of the viewer. She is able to reveal emotional and spiritual agony with just one gaze and it is convincing to see. She carries Arrival for two hours. It is too bad that the other characters are so bland and boring. Jeremy Renner plays Ian Donnelly, a statistician brought in to work with Adams. I did not see anything about his character that justified him even being there. The ending supplies an answer, but by then I did not care. Forest Whitaker is Colonel Weber and their boss. Whitaker has a strange accent and I was not sure what that was all about. Regardless, he is serviceable and does what his character requires, but there is nothing special about any of the supporting characters. So this film hinges on Adams who delivers but the film around her is hollow and dreary.
The script, penned by Eric Heisserer based on Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life”, strives for a more intellectual and cerebral approach to this material and I did appreciate the effort to make something a little less conventional. The script and Denis Villeneuve strike a tone and mood that is uneasy and it works. Arrival is a mysterious and beautifully shot film. There are some astoundingly gorgeous shots in this film. I also enjoyed Johann Johannsson’s score, which he has stated is an intentional homage to John Williams’ score for Jaws. It is excellent and suits the film’s mood and tone.
The problem, for me with Arrival is that it is sterile and bland. The supporting characters are not worth investing time into because they are boring and uninteresting. Only Adams truly shines in Arrival. The rest is a distraction that kept taking me out of the film and the ending which is supposed to be a surprise turned out to be a letdown, as well. You can have a character study involving aliens and such, but make it interesting. 1997’s Contact is a perfect example.The film is similarly plotted and starred Jodie Foster. It is a magnificent film directed by Robert Zemeckis and was able to touch on spirituality, politics and touch the human soul in a story that was smartly written and compelling. Arrival tries and has some great elements that do work, but it comes up way short. I hope this is not the case with Villeneuve’s upcoming sequel to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.
Arrival – **3/4 out of 5
Arrival – Rated PG-13 for some language, brief violence, adult situations
Arrival – Run Time is 116 minutes
Arrival is now playing in theaters. Check you local listings for times and locations.