Rated: PG-13 (for brief strong language.)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner & Forrest Whitaker.
Genre: Science Fiction
“Come back to me…”
There are times that films can surprise you, leaving you with this overwhelming feeling of emotional closure that you didn’t expect. When you walk into the movie, you are expecting something that should be just good popcorn fun but walk out enlightened to what filmmaking or storytelling can truly deliver. Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival” did that in spades, delivering one of the best experiences I’ve had watching a film. Imagine that scene in Ratatouille (follow me here), where the Critic sits down and begins to try, what he would assume is Chef Gusteau’s finest work. He begins to bite the Ratatouille and in a flash we are experiencing his childhood. He reminisces about being in a villa with his mother in a tiny little village in France, eating his favorite meal…something he hasn’t felt in a long time, being oversaturated with the same meals, over and over and over again. Arrival was my plate of Ratatouille. With the eventual oversaturation of the same stories repeated to tireless in-effect, Arrival creates a science fiction work to be proud of. The marketing of the film will have you believe it is an “Alien Invasion Movie” but it is more that that. I can’t spoil anything because it would detract from the beautiful filmmaking done by Mr. Villeneuve. You may already guess what my score will be at the end but let me tell you something…I didn’t expect it. I didn’t expect, sitting there, that I would be taken to a place that would make me think, make me emotional, make me care as much as I did when the credits hit. If this isn’t a film, 10 years down the road, that someone says: “One of the best science fiction stories of our time.” I’ll be surprised. This film belongs with The Day The Earth Stood Still, Inception, Looper, 2001: A Space Odyssey…Let’s hurry up and get to the review before I sing it’s praises higher and make myself forget there is a review to do…
Mysterious and ominous spacecrafts suddenly appear touch down around the world, leading teams of specialists to investigate their appearance. Dr. Louise Banks, an expert linguistics professor, is brought in to try and communicate with the Alien species and try to uncover “What is your purpose on Earth?”. As riots are waged in the streets, plans of attack from other countries are being rumored. With little time, Dr. Banks must get an answer from theses visitors, all the while, trying to come to terms with her own humanity. That is my best interpretation without giving away any true spoilers. Within the first 2 minutes, your jaw will drop to the floor. As I write this, I am listening to the score for the beginning of the film and let me tell you…I’m truly holding back my emotions. I’ll tell you now: there is no big set pieces…there is no huge action scenes…this is pure storytelling. On first viewing, there will be moments that are edited into the film that you may be thinking: “I don’t understand. What does this have to do with the scene that was being played before.” All I’ll say is…just wait. Let the film tell it’s story and by the end, your head will be going over it again…and again…and again. Originality at it’s finest!
I’m very curious why Amy Adams hasn’t won an Academy Award already. I know she won’t win for this because every is abuzz about Emma Stone in La La Land (well deserved praise mind you) and Natalie Portman in Jackie (haven’t seen it yet, but when I do, I’ll let you know) but her performance in this is hauntingly beautiful. She portrays this vulnerability with even amounts of strength (if that makes any sense). When the film starts, you follow her journey from being an everyday teacher to having to try and decipher theses alien writings to also teaching theses aliens our own language. The strength she portrays is one of duty and upholding the truest sense of doing the “right thing”. Her vulnerability stems from an overbearing task in front of her, as she basically tries to hold herself together as the world and herself slowly fall apart. If I was voting in the Academy Awards…she’d have my vote…and she also have the vote for everything else I could possibly give because this is not just a performance, this is so expertly delivered with subtly and such complex understanding for who this character had to be. Jeremy Renner delivers a very subdued performance as one of the Scientists helping Dr. Banks. His performance is good and is appropriate for the films subject matter (by sense that, he doesn’t hurt the film). The only reason I say that, is that Renner has played action hero with the Avengers films and that Bourne film he did, it’s nice to see him a little subdued. Forrest Whitaker had a smaller role in the film but he does a fine job as well.
Direction and Editing:
Let me get this out of the way: This is only the second film I’ve seen by Denis Villeneuve (the first being Prisoners) but I will say this: Where have you been all my life?! With that out of the way…Denis Villeneuve’s patient movement of the camera, longer takes between edits approach delivers an atmosphere of how on a grand scale this story is, yet such a personal one. There are scenes in the film that show Dr. Banks personal story which mirror thoses of the events that transpire within the confines of the Alien Spacecraft that are delivered so beautifully that nearly every time I was sucked in even more. If you were to take a still from somewhere in the movie, it would look freaking gorgeous…not lying. What Denis and his team did was tell a independent film story within the borders of a big budget science fiction story. For that I applaude their work and am excited for what they do next….(BLADE RUNNER 2049).
Listen to “On the Nature of Daylight” by Max Richter. That is the song that plays during the beginning of the film and I will tell you, when I first heard it, it put me into a state of awe. Starting off with such a powerfully deep feeling musical track was like a freight train to Tear Town. Johann Johannson delivers a very beautiful score to follow along with their use of Max Richter’s song. (Oh and if you were wondering, it’s this song that I’ve been playing while writing this review). There’s nothing more I can say about this film without getting into spoilers so I will be going straight to overall.
What more is there to say about a film that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind and got me sitting here gushing all over it. Arrival is a film that delivers a poignant message in a world that is currently dealing with some heavy issues. With a beautiful performance by Amy Adams, expert storytelling and such exquisite material to work from, Arrival is one of, if not, the best films of the year.
Verdict: 10 out of 10
Arrival is currently in theatres but will be on VOD at the end of January.