Tuesday, 21 February 2017
Language underpins everything in our society. The very pillars of communication have formed over years of linguistics evolving from society to society. All of life has a way to communicate and if one could understand the language of other living things, who knows what lies in the future. This is Arrival.
When strange large extraterrestrial ships appear dotted around the globe as if by magic, it is up to the greatest minds in the world to make contact. There's theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and there's also the best in American brute force in army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker). Like twelve other ship landing (or more accurately, hovering) sites around the world, they team up to try to get the life onboard the vessels to answer one question - what is your purpose?
There has been a recent resurgence of quality science fiction films, taking a strong, socially applicable concept (see the need for fuel in Moon or the uninhabitability of Earth in Interstellar), a talented cast, and a director with a bold and cohesive vision. When these elements are combined, the film makers tap into a societal nerve and make something special. Arrival is no exception. In a world where military force is the first port of call when anything happens, Arrival poses a counter argument between brain and brawn, brilliantly represented in one scene where Louise analytically dissects the question the army want to ask, highlighting the necessity of patience and learning. Here, director Villeneuve proves his range and firmly establishes himself as the next big thing, following 2013's Prisoners and last year's Sicario.
Part of the beauty is no doubt in the cast. Once you can get around the notion that Renner is the coolest leading theoretical physicist ever, everything slots neatly into place. Whitaker is in familiar territory too as the authority figure and manages to be a good middle man between the academics and the military. But this is Amy Adams' film. Her performance is intelligent and emotional and is foundational to the film. We feel the fear in her nightmares, we share the joys in her success. It may feel to some like Merck Streep stole Adams' place on the Oscar ballot this year and Arrival (and last year's Nocturnal Animals) is evidence of her talent and her worthiness of further reward.
One part The Day The Earth Stood Still, one part Interstellar, one part E.T., Arrival encapsulates everything a good Sci-fi should. It also hops around back and forth in time through apparent flashbacks and memories, all of which serve to build the climax of the film, to finally reach understanding. It's complexity in the final third causes it to stumble occasionally or drag a little too long, but for the most part it's an exciting, fresh and innovative addition to science-fiction cinema and one that will no doubt provide inspiration to keep the trend of quality sci-fi on the rise.