If a movie can make you stop what you are doing, literally pause it, and examine a still frame, then you know it is beautifully made. Such is the case for Denis Villeneuve’s science-fiction drama Arrival (2016). Based on the story entitled Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, Arrival blends pace, depth and need-for-attention in the most immersive science-fiction movie since District 9 (2009).
The opening 15 minutes of Arrival sets a perfect tone of subtle exposition that caries through the entire mesmerizing ride.
Within those minutes, the viewers are introduced to Louis Banks, played by Amy Adams. It is a perfect initiation to the deeper character traits of the film’s hero. A lonely linguistics professor who has had apparent success on a global level, but is dealing with internal dread that’s grounded her in an apparent routinely rut.
The monotonous tone is altered when extraterrestrial life lands on earth with no apparent message or purpose; cue Arrival’s tagline…”Why are they here?”
The government, mainly Forest Whitaker’s Colonel Weber, call upon Banks’ services to try and communicate with the aliens. She must work the charismatic Ian Donnelly, played by Jeremy Renner, to establish tangible dialogue with the visitors before the governments across the globe completely disintegrate into assured isolated destruction.
No pressure, right?
The second half of the movie centers around how Banks leads the charge in dissecting the ink-splot, three-dimensional-esq language of the strangers to earth. Her process is tested by a need to expedite the understanding; nation’s across the world get continuously stressed by the idea of falling behind the eight-ball and being subject to a possible invasion.
The ending is profound not because of its impact to the world as a whole, but instead to the character Banks. The reason why the aliens travelled to earth is a symbiotic with the journey she treks. Major props to Villeneuve on combining his film’s overarching umbrella motif with the person who’s actually roaming through the storm.
Arrival doesn’t have any weak points. The writing is strong. The acting is great. But the cinematography and direction…it’s downright as close to perfect as one can get.
For example, the first time that Banks and Donnelly meet the aliens. Villeneuve frames everything to make it seem like the humans are matched against a large, looming task. Whether it be the two characters climbing the expansive shaft into the ship or the first time we see the tree trunk limbs in frame; the audience is subtly jabbed with a stick holding a sign saying “the scope of is problem is a big one.”
Much like how Banks is forced to try and grab an unmeasured mass of understanding, Villeneuve begs for the viewers of his vision to pay attention at every moment. He achieves his desire by making sure no scene is wasted, not subtle-movement is unwarranted. Arrival is a superb watch…and at the time of writing this…it’s making me incredibly upset I’ve yet to immerse myself in Blade Runner 2049 (2017).
Stanko Rating: A-