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.