Denis Villeneuve is one of my favorite contemporary directors. He has a talent for suspense and visuals that rivals David Fincher. Prisoners and Sicario are as haunting as they are beautiful with a physical darkness underlining the thematic dread. Based on the hype surrounding Arrival, I imagine he is set to wow me again. Hopefully it will make up for whatever Blade Runner 2049 may turn out to be. Was Villeneuve successful or did I watch Sicario again to get the bad taste out of my mouth?
After a dozen alien ships appear at different points of the globe Louise, played by Amy Adams, is hired by the US Military to translate the alien’s language. While hard at work, the rest of the world’s nations begin to falter from what they learn in their own research.
Arrival is very similar to Girl on the Train in how it uses suspense and that anything I say will be a spoiler. Rather than lie to the audience, the film tells you everything from the start, then gradually reveals itself. It is like watching Mr. Robot twice or playing the game Neir multiple times. You will not notice most of the details or understand what is happening at first. I only saw one at the beginning, but I had no idea what it meant until after the twist. You are never told what is going on, just what is happening in the moment.
In terms of science fiction, this is the genuine article. Arrival is an invasion movie about communication. Instead of studying what first contact would be like on a global scale, the story examines how we would approach visitors whose language is utterly unknown to us and vice versa. As a linguist, Louise has to not only figure out what the aliens are saying, but interpret what she is saying to ask them complex questions. The moments where she is working as the world falls apart make for some nice points of tension.
Despite the genre, Villeneuve brings his signature style. There is the heavy use of darkness punctuated by bright light with long cuts. This time, there is an emphasis on wide shots and landscapes to capture the large scope. Both Prisoners and Sicario were tight because the stories were personal. In Arrival, scenes that are outdoors are open and beautiful in their bleakness while interiors are detailed. This does not take away from the inherent suspense, but adds to it. The stakes are far reaching and the openness of the cinematography compounds that fact.
To be honest, there is not much wrong with the film. Apart from shoddy CG effects that are barely present early on, Arrival is pretty well put together with nary an issue of plot or overt technical problems. The performances were also serviceable with Adams proving she can act after sleep walking through BvS like Natalie Portman in… everything. And it does true science fiction better than its contemporaries.
I understand a lot of people in America are anxious after the election and Arrival is just what they need. It has a message that will lift your spirits if you are dissatisfied with the result. However, I recommend waiting until the 12th because tomorrow is Veteran’s Day, and that time should be spent remembering those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our great nation.