Arrival is a science fiction film that seemed somewhat contrived and rather cliched in the trailers, although seemed to largely stay away from the action film clichés that have permeated recent modern sci-fi blockbusters like the Independence Day Resurgence. Despite trailers from both Paramount and Sony and attempts to play up its directorial links with Sicario, there hasn’t been the same marketing blitz as many other recent science-fiction.
Despite this, with Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker amongst the cast, it certainly isn’t lacking for star power. But exactly what the film was about, other than aliens and potential conflict, remained somewhat of a mystery.
The plot, as suggested above, involves aliens, a translator (Amy Adams), and an attempt to communicate with the aliens. Normally, this section would include the official synopsis, but there isn’t actually one for this film on its official website so instead it’ll just include the trailer (which I would recommend not watching until you’ve seen the film!!):
Arrival is without question one of the most interesting, intriguing and enjoyable films of the year. While the inclusion of aliens makes it a science fiction film, it moves well beyond the basics of most modern science fiction films to delve into the modern psyche provoking the audience to consider questions in probably a more meaningful fashion than most other films in the genre.
While it does have some actions sequences, Arrival is a much more thoughtful sci-fi film which can at times feel slightly overlong and confusing. But through these moments, it encourages the viewer to review and reflect on everyday experiences and relationships in both an individual and collective context.
The film is very timely given recent events and political developments by provoking the audience to question the actions of individuals and countries, and the potential for them to work together towards a common goal or separate and divide in response to a common threat, perceived or otherwise. It raises questions over nationhood and individuality and encourages the viewer to consider their own views on these concepts without ever being too dogmatic and prescribed.
There is an underlying pathos in Arrival – inspired by its opening act – that continues throughout the film and is never fully explained until the end. As the story unfolds, it raises questions about personal relationships, morality and fate in a rather understated manner which allows the viewer to review and reflect without ever feeling forced to do so. It raises many questions throughout and leads down seemingly unrelated tangents, only to bring most, if not all, to a close as the film progresses. But that isn’t to say this is a happy-ending film – without giving the finale away, it is safe to say that the film leaves viewers with mixed emotions and plenty to think about.
Amy Adams puts in a stellar performance as Louise, the film’s lead, bringing an intelligence to the role without her performance ever feeling intellectually detached from the audience. There is an emotional warmth underlying her performance that ensures that even in its more ponderous and confusing moments, the film and Adams’ performance remain engaging.
Renner and Whitaker are also excellent as are the rest of the supporting cast who are given plenty to do around Adams. Whitaker in particularly was a pleasant surprise as a colonel who is neither a militaristic idiot as is so frequent in this type of film or a rogue defying orders. Renner is also good, although I still struggle to see him actually embody different characters in different film – he always seems to just play himself, but at least he does that well!
The visual effects were generally decent and a definite positive for the film putting a lot of other recent sci—fi films to shame. While it struggles to maintain this towards the end of the film, Arrival’s visual effects hold together well and add rather than detract from the experience.
The score is excellent, evoking a sense of the unknown appropriately while also grounding the film when necessary. The music emphasises the emotional progression of the film without ever overpowering it, and at times preludes key developments without overshadowing or detracting from them. It may not be something to listen to in isolation, but it partners perfectly with the visual story and certainly progresses in partnership with the plot.
Arrival bring a pathos, emotional depth and self-reflection that is all too frequently lacking in modern science fiction films. While the film looks good visually, it is the excellent acting and score that bring this film to life. The plot has some slightly unexpected turns and uneven pacing but never feels convoluted. Arrival encourages its audience to reflect both on themselves and the world without ever feeling too preachy or contrived. All-in-all, Arrival is not only an excellent science fiction film, but easily one of the most interesting, engaging and emotionally challenging film of the year.