Directed by Denis Villeneuve.
Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma and Mark O’Brien.
When mysterious spacecrafts touch down across the globe, an elite team – lead by expert linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) – is brought together to investigate. As mankind teeters on the verge of global war, Banks and the team race against time for answers – and to find them, she will take a chance that could threaten her life, and quite possibly humanity.
Arrival is an extraordinary piece of work. It’s science fiction at its most meditative, at its most intimate, at its most pristine. There are no ostentatious speeches declaring the cancellation of the apocalypse, nor applauding that of our independence, instead, Denis Villeneuve-in the midst of a hot streak-weaves a tale of immense melancholia placed at the forefront of a happened upon science fiction backdrop.
When monolithic spacecrafts looking like immaculate black pebbles-or maybe slightly reminiscent of a Terry’s Chocolate Orange slice – appear seemingly randomly across the globe, linguist expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams at her most nuanced) is coerced by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) into working with the US government alongside mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) in order to decode their language.
Every 12 hours, round the clock, an antechamber opens, giving Banks and Donnelly the opportunity to interact with the unknown. A cavernous hole leads up towards a concert hall sized chamber where mysterious figures are housed behind a massive window.
The aliens, drowned in thick fog, once revealed are reminiscent of a wax chandelier at the foot of the mask of phantasm, hulking figures, at once elegant, at once immensely unnerving figures of the unfamiliar. Their interactions with Banks seem inconsequential at first, while their language, baffling and beautiful symbols circular in their form although absolutely alien, evolve to a point almost of familiarity.
Cinematographer Bradford Young shoots with palpable mystery, at times indebted to Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, yet seemingly all the more indebted to inexplicable, hazy dreams.
Villeneuve opens the proceedings with a series of guttural flashbacks showing Banks raise, then ultimately lose her daughter to an unknown cancer. The full force hits hard late on when a revelation reveals a far larger game at play of which to spoil would to be far too cruel. Those flashbacks, already distressing, evolve to be something far more evocative and mournful.
Banks is shown never simply as a single-mother nor that of an uptight professor and Adams – whose performance is delicate and undulating – brings with her tangible heft. Similarly Renner – always the bridesmaid – puts in a beautifully restrained performance. In fact, the two of them perform with such subtlety; even the simplest of glances feels immensely complex in its subtext.
Layer after layer of seductive plotting, like a mille-feuille filled deep with rich melancholia, beguile while also ruminating with the sort of sadness usually reserved for something far more personal.
Upon leaving the cinema, there was the sense the audience had taken on the full brunt of the world onto their shoulders. Bodies felt heavier, lights felt sharper, more garish, the world felt almost anew.
Arrival is a film of absolute power, the sort of film that hits like a great freight train and continues to linger. It’s taken a month for its full power to hit, and at any moment it seems to slip from the mind, it only further cogitates. Those lavish arch ideas of time marinade and become all the more dizzying and fateful.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★