The trailer for Arrival made it look like more than an alien film. People were comparing it to Close Encounters, maybe because it’s about the initial contact between humans and extra-terrestrials. But it delivers so much more than that in just under two hours, which is impressive for such a good movie. Some may have been expecting alien vs human warfare, or plenty of shouting between presidents, but there’s none of that. This is a highly original movie, with an excellent twist, to really outline the ambition of the film.
Dennis Villeneuve, who also directed the very well received Sicaro, has put together an intelligent, but not boring film. There are moments, certainly, where it feels slightly laboured, but these moments only add to the pay-off at the end. Its not a perfect film, by any means, but it gives it a good go. The sound editing is bizarre at some points, with randomly loud and grand noises that seem to come from nowhere. The lighting is also a little off, with the main character being shrouded in darkness against a dazzlingly bright background. But these are only minor niggles, against a film that otherwise is visually stunning. Its not clear how much CGI is being used, which must be a compliment to the effects department, but that’s the advantage of having minimal action scenes. The less fast paced action, the less obvious it is if the effects are poor. The film keeps these well in balance.
A lack of action does not mean that the movie moves slowly. It isn’t fast, but that’s an advantage, it moves at a very natural speed. This helps in making Arrival, without exception, the most accurate-looking alien arrival film ever made. I mentioned previously that District 9 was the best alien film I’d seen, and I stick by that, but there’s no question that does contain some ridiculous plot lines. Arrival makes you truly believe that this is how such a story would unfold. Without giving the plot away, the initial plan of the world’s governments is to communicate with the aliens, rather than blow them out of the sky. It begins with showing all the world leaders showing solidarity and support for one another. But the fascinating aspect is how believable it is to see this collaboration slowly wane away. It’s politically heavy, and if you’re planning to just see stuff explode, then no, don’t go see this. But for a highly engaging, highly realistic movie, this is one of the best this year.
Amy Adams is interesting, it’s rare to see her play a character on the back foot. She seemed out of her comfort zone in this way, but she coped well enough. The emotional scenes of course she did fine, but when she’s trying to play a slightly dull college professor, she just seemed uncomfortable. Contrast that to Jeremy Renner, who I’m yet to see look out of place in any role. He doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves. Sure he got critical acclaim for the Hurt Locker, but his leading roles get limited to flops like The Bourne Legacy. The biggest movie he’s appeared in is The Avengers, and for reasons I still don’t understand, everyone seemed to hate his character. But in this he’s excellent, and its clear that he worked with Adams on American Hustle, the chemistry works brilliantly.
What’s most pleasing about Arrival though, more than the plot or the story-line itself, is by far the visuals. Some of the shots are incredible, so visually pleasing, and in the first showing of the alien ship is done in a long take. This really allows the viewer to take in everything about the ship itself, and the surrounding area. The film doesn’t leave this site from this point on, so it’s an effective way to give people a complete understanding of where this is all taking place. And with a score than doesn’t overpower the audio, it leaves just the visuals to take in, and it all combines to form a stunning array of shots. Think Zack Snyder, but good.
All in all, a great film, one of the best this year. Its also good to see that, so far, its getting the praise it duly deserves.