Arrival (Amy Adams/Jeremy Renner) - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
DENIS Villeneuve is fast becoming the go-to director for intelligent cinema; someone capable of traversing genre and putting his own stamp on things.
With Prisoners, his US debut after the striking Incendies, he turned a potential piece of torture porn and turned it into a morally complex examination of revenge as well as a riveting detective drama. Sicario, meanwhile, tackled the war on drugs in virtuoso fashion, again combining conflicted morality with superb thriller dynamics.
Now, with Arrival he turns the sci-fi genre on its head. The early posters suggested a thinking man’s Independence Day, but early festival reviews pointed towards an approach more similar in style to Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of The Third Kind with a touch of Terrence Malick thrown in.
What is evident from the outset, however, is just how fiercely determined the film is to tread its own path. And the results are as visually breath-taking as they are profoundly moving.
When giant spaceships descend on Earth in several locations, including the US, its up to a top linguistics professor, Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams), and a leading scientist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), to attempt to find a common language so that the aliens’ intentions can be discovered.
But for Adams’s Dr Banks, the mission unfolds from an increasingly personal perspective that seems strangely linked to a tragedy in her own life.
Villeneuve’s film poses some big questions about life, choice, human instinct and the passage of time that resonate on an extremely intimate level. But it’s a tribute to the quality of Eric Heisserer’s script – which he adapted from the short story Story of Your Life – that it can operate on such a personal level while also delivering on the sci-fi front.
The mystery element is well plotted and suitably tense, as is the race against time scenario that eventually unfolds. But even with that element, Villeneuve and Heisserer have a few tricks up their sleeve that are designed (successfully) to make you think.
The personal elements, on the other hand, are really what elevates this drama above the norm. Villeneuve’s film doesn’t just make you think about life’s big questions, it makes you care on a deeply intimate scale. The journey it takes you on is therefore emotionally enriching and complex, not to mention head-spinning in all the right ways.
But as a result, Villeneuve is once more able to draw excellent performances from his talented ensemble, with Adams on stunning form. Her journey is genuinely heart-breaking and the actress combines compassion with intelligence and feisty determination.
Renner, though used much less, is quietly effective, providing stalwart support in a few telling scenes, while the likes of Forest Whitaker, as a US Army official who recruits Adams, and Michael Stuhlbarg, as a CIA operative, also make their mark.
But in the main, this is essentially about one woman’s journey told on an epic scale. It’s thought-provoking, eye-catching, compassionate and extremely poignant: a film big on ideas that touches the heart and mind. It’s a stunning achievement – and one that only makes you more excited to see what Villeneuve does with his next sci-fi venture, the Blade Runner sequel.
Running time: 118mins
UK Release Date: November 10, 2016