It appears science fiction has elevated itself. Without including this year’s biggest blockbusting sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, there has been some spectacular inclusions to the genre in the last decade. Gravity and Interstellar have been notable recent highlights, but Ex Machina has been the most impressive – ably splicing together two sides of science fiction to produce a fully immersive experience in both character and plot.
Based on the science fiction short, Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, Arrival follows specialised, renowned linguist Louise (Amy Adams), who has been hired by an elite government team following the landing of a peculiar spacecraft on Earth. Part of a team working on one of twelve sights where spacecrafts have landed, Louise, mathematician Ian (Jeremy Renner) and company venture inside the ominous crafts to establish a sort of common language between human and alien, attempting to uncover their reason for entering the planet’s atmosphere.
Treading uncommon ground, usual horror writer Eric Heisserer’s nuanced and affecting adaptation is of spectacular brilliance. He inserts common intrigue through complete mystery – why and how are these beings here? Most alarmingly so, it dodges the increasingly formulaic approach of pitting alien against human after a paralysingly mechanical structure of alien seeking our species methods of fighting back. Without even mentioning the meticulous direction of director Denis Villeneuve, the man behind Prisoners and last year’s fantastic Sicario, this is territory that feels undeniably fresh, new and incredibly exciting.
However, it is Villenueve’s diversification as a filmmaker that demands most applause. Tonally ambitious, Arrival is a fascinating rollercoaster ride which ultimately transforms into a character piece. But, without dealing all cards immediately, Villeneuve avoids spoon-feeding his audience. You won’t know where this film is headed, and there will certainly be a few moments of much needed clarification. This is an impressively intelligent film – a masterclass in diligent, scrupulous detail and bizarre realism that feels perpetually grounded and almost true to life. It doesn’t sugarcoat and it certainly doesn’t encumber what isn’t needed to be fleshed – this is grown-up science fiction demanding admiration for an experience that is as bewilderingly beautiful as it is thought-provoking.
We have a world renowned linguist attempting a completely new form of language to create a foreground to base her findings on. The film bases itself entirely on communication, our greatest tool as human beings. Thus it’s an added morality tale, as we as humans require to work together to piece all evidence to reach the whole picture. It’s a challenging portrayal on Villeneuve’s part as this essentially questions the ideals that we as a race are as one, and anything and everything that appears somewhat indifferent isn’t classed as anything of the sort. This theme resonates exponentially, especially in the tribulations of modern day.
Beyong Villeneuve’s exceptional storytelling, this is truly Adams’ film. A character so progressively endearing and so ultimately rich in emotion, she leads a well-balanced cast of superlative performances, but none more exceptional than her own. As her character grows more in-tune with the beings, her confidence exudes, conveyeying a mass range of sentiment that will surely hurtle her towards awards season success. Her deeply affecting performance goes through an enormous transition, and come the final act will leave you polarised and reeling for more.
This triumphant film truly sees the peak of science fiction in this form. Villeneuve’s tremendous addition to the genre is perpetually smart, carrying genuine surprise and a poignancy that will catch you entirely off guard. One of Adams’ finest performances to date, she elevates this film to a standard above what it already was.
Dir: Denis Villeneuve
Scr: Eric Heisserer
Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Prd: Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, David Linde
Music: Johann Johannsson
DOP: Bradford Young
Runtime: 116 minutes
Arrival is out in cinemas now.