Movie Review: Arrival

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Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writer:Eric Heisserer, Ted Chiang

Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Verdict: A joy

There are some films you need to see twice, be they Fight Club, The Sixth Sense, or any other famous twist movie you can think of. Arrival doesn’t necessarily have a twist but it has a development of an idea that will make you see the movie in a new light. I would have gotten my review of Arrival out a week ago when it still would have gotten me views, (boy the internet moves fast), I might even have been able to review it in the uni paper, but I walked out and thought, ‘before I can even begin to review this movie I need to see it again’, both so I can see if the ideas in it hold up, and to see if my flaws with it hold up.

Arrival follows Amy Adams, (Nocturnal Animals, Batman v Superman: Dawn of JusticeBig Eyes), who plays a linguist hired to translate the alien’s language when they quoteunquote ‘arrive’. The film also stars Jeremy Renner, (The Hurt LockerThe AvengersAmerican Hustle), as the physicist hired to find out what he can about the aliens, Forrest Whitaker, (PlatoonThe Last King of ScotlandThe Butler), who seems to never be out of work, which is good because he’s a very good actor, and Michael Stuhlbarg, (A Serious Man), who seems to just be taking fun bit parts these days but he does it very well, and well I’m glad he’s in work. 

There’s so much to love about Arrival, the score is fantastic, the cinematography is masterful, and it’s this extraordinarily emotional story that’s also incredibly intelligent. It’s like someone gave Roland Emmerich, (Independence Day), a heart and a brain. The director in this case in a guy called Denis Villeneuve, (PrisonersSicario), who made his breakthrough with some incredibly dark thrillers and there are moments in this film where he does go full Villeneuve. The moment when they first enter the pods really puts you in mind of that extraordinary traffic jam sequence from Sicario, and whilst those moments are incredibly well done on first viewing it doesn’t sit particularly well with the tone of the rest of the film, which is sort of verging on Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Upon a second watch when I didn’t get into the film just as the opening montage was starting, I got in well before, (incidentally the montage takes on whole new meanings upon a second visit), the dour tone of the rest of the film worked a lot better and the tonal problems became a lot less jarring. 

One problem I did find, and this might spoil a bit but I’m going to really try, is that Arrival looks at these ideas of time, not time travel, but ideas of how we view time, that don’t hold up as well as they do in, let’s say a Kurt Vonnegut, (Slaughterhouse-Five, Breakfast of Champions), story. Walking out of the cinema I said to my mother that it doesn’t hold up perfectly and she said it never does, but it really does in this Vonnegut book. In fact if they’d have just corrected this one scene it would have held up a whole lot better. Also, with the very best will in the world , Villeneuve is not an actor’s director. Adams I think will get nominated but more for the character and the role than her acting in it, Renner actually I think is the best actor here, and he’s normally really boring. Stuhlbarg is very good in his small role which he always is, and he’s perfectly serviceable but no one’s stand out and Whitaker really can’t do the accent. 

That being said, Arrival is a film about mothers, and the experience of parenthood and what it means to be a parent, and when I watched this the first time I was sitting next to my mother, and it’s a film that made me feel grateful for my mother and it’s a film that made me feel shitty for all the times I had been less than appreciative, and it’s a film that didn’t necessarily make me want kids because I don’t but it’s a film that made me get it, because it explained it in a way that aligns with my core philosophical belief system. It aligns with things I’ve told myself to get me through hard times. And I just cried, a lot, a lot a lot. 

The film may not be perfect because it’s not, and in the end the film makes me really excited for the new Blade Runner movie, Blade Runner 2049, which Villeneuve is helming because he shows off things in Arrival that I think would be better suited to that movie. That being said, when it delivers an emotional payload like it does the end, it kind of transcends flaws, although they have to be mentioned.

Villeneuve is worth your box office vote, this film is a challenging, interesting, and intelligent film, go see it because then we’ll get more like it. Arrival is good for cinema as a whole, if it does well. Go see it, despite it’s flaws. It’s looking like I’m going to see it for a third time, and I can’t wait. 

I tell you what though, I thought Doctor Strange was a dead cert for the VFX Oscar. The interesting thing is that the Doctor Strange VFX is that whilst it’s entirely immersive its not nearly as seamless as Arrival, which I didn’t actually realize until I thought about what VFX Arrival would need. Arrival should be up there with Doctor Strange although Doctor Strange should win, and I think will win. 

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