Sorry this one is late, but I just have had some stuff to deal with since I watched this!
Arrival (2016) Dir. Denis Villeneuve Writ. Eric Heisserer Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forrest Whitaker Rated PG-13 116 mins. Science Fiction IMDB 8.5
I think it is important for me to preface everything I’m about to say with this:
I had no expectations going into this movie. The trailers gave away very little, I’ve never heard of what this is adapted from, and I genuinely just knew ‘people trying to talk to aliens, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, cool looking cinematography’.
So I didn’t know what I was going to see, I didn’t expect what I DID see, and other than everybody praising how good this movie was online – in reviews I never clicked on because I didn’t want spoilers – I had nothing but that basic idea when I got there. I knew I wanted to see this, because I like science fiction that isn’t an action movie (not that I DON’T like those, but I really enjoy non-action-y sci-fi) and I love Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner as actors. My local cinema isn’t showing it, and I was going to just wait, but after all the hype, I decided to go all the way to another city just to see it.
I do not regret that choice at all.
Okay, so Arrival is about a woman named Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) who is a professor of linguistics, one of the top linguistics people in the world, and when these big, bean-shaped UFO’s land all over earth, the government sends Colonel Weber (Forrest Whitaker) to bring her in and let her lead the researchers trying to find a way to communicate with the aliens. She, along with a physicist named Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), begins to learn to communicate via written language with the aliens deemed Heptapods.
I cannot stress how unfortunate it is that I am reluctant to give away major spoilers in my reviews on here because it means I can’t say everything I want to (I should take a leaf from some of my podcast reviewers I listen to and have a spoilers section some day) about this movie. The reason it was so vague is because this movie is so profound in it’s plot.
What I can say, however, is that this is the most beautiful movie I’ve seen this year. It has plenty of flaws, the most important being that the character work is very flat for everyone besides Louise and even Louise doesn’t have as much depth as she could’ve had. However, I find myself not caring about that. It has flaws, yes, but it’s such an amazing idea. The person who came up with this concept has a creative mind unlike any I’ve encountered and I bow down to them. The idea that, for the Heptapods, time is not linear is one that’s so profound that I question how someone came up with any idea that allows you to try and make that into a narrative work. That feeds some of the weaknesses I think, such as the montages that cover linear time for the audience so we don’t really know how the scientists do manage to understand their language, but I still find myself not really caring about that very much.
The cinematography of this film is astonishingly beautiful. I highly doubt anybody came out of this movie without vividly remembering going ‘wow’ at that long, sweeping shot as the helicopter approached the camp and the mist was rolling over the mountains. It was absolutely freaking beautiful. And even in very plain situations, I enjoyed a lot of the camera work in this one. There was this framing choice for a lot of shots that I immediately think of the TV show Halt and Catch Fire for even though it’s used by a lot of people where instead of the people talking being framed on the ‘back’ third (so that the open space is in the direction of the person they’re talking to) they’re framed in the front third. I don’t know the technical term for this and for that I apologize, but it’s something that I noticed a lot in this film that I just really enjoyed. (Also it’s funny I mention Halt and Catch Fire because one of the soldiers is played by the same guy who plays Tom Rendon on that show.)
Another thing that stands out is this film’s score! I’m not familiar with composers so I don’t know what this person’s usual work is like, but this film has a very unique score, and the opening and closing themes are just so amazing. Absolutely wonderful and fitting for the entire movie. If this movie doesn’t get nominated for score and sound design, I’ll be shocked.
The plot twist is one I can’t talk about at all because even the slightest discussion gives it away and I’m SO sorry for those of you who DID see it and wanted my take on that, but feel free to reach out to me on twitter (@JannaWilliford) and I will DM you until the cows come home to discuss how much I loved this idea.
One thing I said a lot that I can touch on that sort of gives you an idea of what I feel about the plot twist and the ending is that this movie reminded me a lot of the movie Her, and not just because they both had Amy Adams. It’s such an abstract concept that makes you open your mind and think about things in a different way. In Her, the thing that makes you reassess what you know is the idea of ‘what makes a person’, because the OS is conscious and is a person even though it has no body or human soul. And at the end of that movie, you are left thinking about how the choices made by the characters all revolve around how they think about and understand that very same concept. Arrival also ends up being similar. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what the concept you have to open your mind to is, and I felt like it was so incredibly beautiful and moving and though provoking that Louise made the decisions she did after facing her own ‘shaking up’ of everything she thought she knew before.
You as a viewer are left wondering ‘What would I do if I had to reassess everything I knew in that way?’ and it was just so incredibly moving.
This movie was very moving to me. I was so shocked by a few reviewers talking about how it was cold and they couldn’t connect with the story emotionally because I was throwing around the concept of ‘Duende’ on twitter after I came out of it. If you’re not familiar, Duende is a Spanish word that we don’t really have an equivalent to in English that basically comes down to the concept of a work of art giving you an intense, overwhelming emotional or physical reaction. Getting chills from music or getting choked up by a painting or, in my case, crying just from being overwhelmed emotionally when it comes to a movie.
There are a few movies that give me duende. One of them was Her and one of them is Arrival now that I’ve seen it.
Like I said, this movie did have some flaws. The writing was iffy in a few places, and Jeremy Renner was wasted on Ian because Ian could’ve been a piece of fruit and it still wouldn’t change much of anything, but I also didn’t really care. Louise lost some of her character work at the end of the movie when you realized some things, but I just don’t care. This was Amy Adams’s movie, and I’m totally fine that neither Jeremy Renner or Forrest Whitaker took away from Louise’s story. They were both good actors in ‘whatever’ roles, but I liked them there, and though I didn’t buy the connection between Ian and Louise at all, I just didn’t care. This movie was a very plot driven film and with that plot and the emotional impact it delivered, and with the help of Amy Adams reminding people why she’s one of the best actors in Hollywood, I genuinely don’t care about the flaws. I think it was writing, not direction or acting, and it wasn’t enough to even put a dent in how much I love this movie.
The ONLY reason I’m not giving this movie a higher score is because of those flaws, however. Sloppy character work is one of those things that I can’t ignore no matter how much I wish I could. But I love this movie. I LOVE this movie. I wish I could take everybody to see it and just watch other people watch it, that’s how much this movie blew me away.
I did not expect this movie to be so profound or give me such duende, and I cried at the beginning and knew I was in for a very different experience than I had prepared for. By the end of this movie, I regretted wearing mascara that day, because I was wiping tears away for I’d say the last five minutes of the film. It was moving and unique and I will be thinking about this movie for weeks, I’m certain.
My Rating: 8/10