A movie doesn’t have to spell everything out for me if I get a sense that the filmmaker is offering me something to ponder and not simply teasing. I don’t pretend to understand everything about Arrival, but instead of being put off I find myself intrigued, even wanting to watch it again. I don’t often have that reaction, but I was immediately drawn into this provocative science-fiction story.

Amy Adams is a perfect choice to play the woman who, in the wake of a personal tragedy, is recruited to help the U.S. government communicate with aliens. She strikes just the right note as our guide on a challenging and often cerebral journey of discovery. Cast as a world-class linguist, she and a theoretical physicist (Jeremy Renner) are our country’s best hope of communicating with the inhabitants of mysterious spacecraft that have encircled the globe. Why are they here? What do they want of us? Are they planning to attack, as some countries’ leaders believe, or are they on a mission of exploration?

Eric Hesserier’s screenplay is adapted from a short story called “Story of Your Life” by the respected science-fiction author Ted Chiang. Hesserier’s cinematic collaborator is Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies, Prisoners), who gives every scene, every detail, a feeling of reality no matter how fantastic it may be.

Arrival has strong echoes of movies past, from The Day the Earth Stood Still to the more ambitious Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Still it manages to chart its own course, and as the film reaches its climax we begin to see just how complex it truly is.  It takes nonlinear storytelling to new heights, playing with the space-time continuum—and our ability to sort it all out.

It’s a film you’ll want to discuss and debate with your friends. The message may not be original but the methodology certainly is, enhanced by a moody score by Johan Johansson. And while I’m not a fan of dwelling on macro-close ups of actors, you couldn’t ask for a better person to dominate that frame than Amy Adams. She is as empathetic and accomplished as any leading lady working today…and if Arrival does nothing else, it provides her with a great starring vehicle.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024