Arrival Review

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What(?) is you(r) 'purpose' on Earth(?)

by Casimir Harlow Nov 11, 2016 at 7:13 AM

  • Movies & TV review


    Arrival Review

    Denis Villeneuve, director of Sicario, offers up a richly textured, deeply rewarding and highly original look at first contact in this year's Interstellar.

    Arrival makes an 11th hour play for the Best Film of the Year and may run away with the title. It's a phenomenally powerful and surprisingly unpredictable feature which delivers its twists with the same aplomb as Interstellar, playing with your preconceptions about communication, language, memory and time, and proving itself capable of balancing heady scientific notions with desperately human sentiments of genuine hope and humanity.
    The narrative sees a language expert pulled from her college lectures to try and interpret the communications of an extra-terrestrial race, only to find that the process has a profound effect on her, even changing the way in which she perceives her own life. As the nations around the world argue over how to deal with the potential 'threat', it falls upon her to break through to the visitors and determine if their intentions are hostile.

    With potentially a career defining performance for Amy Adams, who wraps herself so completely in her character that you are more than prepared to commit to her path of enlightenment, and solid support from Jeremy Renner's scientist, Forrest Whittaker's Colonel, and Michael Stuhlbarg's CIA agent, director Denis Villeneuve once again works his magic to craft a complex and complete cinematic experience, delivering on all fronts - whether in terms of multi-layered narrative or character construction, epic cinematography and claustrophobic tension, or overwhelming atmosphere and emotive scoring.

    Dipping into themes previously established in disparate efforts from Close Encounters and Contact to Independence Day and Interstellar, Villeneuve aims high and hits the mark, providing a rich and rewarding drama with some genuinely great sci-fi concepts in it, redefining our perception (albeit cinematic perception) of alien communication and portrayal. Following suit from Interstellar's ambition, Villeneuve commits to a daring course and the results are subtly spectacular.

    Indeed, upon reflection, it's simply breathtaking to behold such bold epics on the Big Screen, positing ideas and funneling core narratives which were previously relegated to smaller scale affairs in everything from indie flicks like Primer to TV shows like The Twilight Zone. Sure, Arrival doesn't have the expanse of epic other-worldly visuals that bolstered Interstellar, but it is no less worthy in terms of lofty ambition and cerebral sci-fi prowess, and arguably just as impressive an audiovisual experience irrespective of its more low-key set pieces.

    Arrival makes an 11th hour play for the Best Film of the Year and may just run away with the title

    Whilst perfect in its ambition - again much like Interstellar - it's hard to equate the sheer ambition, or indeed countenance it, with the concept of perfection in terms of the whole. The end result of Arrival may not quite be perfect - with tiny slights against it raised in everything from the same piece of evocative classic music playing over key sequences in it as was used in Shutter Island to near-identical effect (although, as per Sunshine and Kick Ass, one could argue that this is neither without precedent nor without merit), to the quirks and queries that surround any semi-linear narrative (Tzi Ma's input, in particular, creates unnecessary problems despite serving the purpose of being a dramatic linchpin of tension).

    Ultimately though, Arrival is one of the most thought-provoking movies you'll see this year, carrying heavy burdens about large-scale mistrust and miscommunication among nations with a surprisingly rewarding undercurrent of human coalescence and collaboration, whilst wielding heart-string-plucking sentiments about unfathomably painful loss as strange, impossibly intangible beacons of hope. And in returning full-circle to its initial premise, it leaves us with a fleeting grasp of the answer to its elusive question of what is your purpose on earth; leveling emotion and experience over almost moot rationalisations about our future. Highly recommended.

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