Arrival (2016)

arrival poster s - Arrival (2016)

arrival poster1 192x300 - Arrival (2016)Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Directed by Denis Villeneuve


Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario) is one of the most brainy and badass directors working today. He’s a master at blending intellectualism with dread and chills. Unfortunately, his new movie Arrival is only halfway there: It’s smart, but it’s slow.

Here’s the deal: Louise Banks (Adams) is a lauded linguistics professor who’s called to serve her country when she joins an elite team of investigators after spaceships that look like gigantic puffy surfboards touch down in 12 diverse locations around the planet. She’s teamed up with physicist Ian Donnelly (Renner) and overseen by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker).

Before long the nations’ military heads freak out, teetering on the edge of a nuclear button-pushing global meltdown. Louise is convinced the Cthulhu-looking aliens have arrived with peaceful intentions, but she can’t quite crack the code to their usual language. They squirt ink from their tentacles to spell out Rorschach-like symbols that must mean something, but… what? Desperate to unravel the mystery, she takes a chance that could threaten her life and possibly all of mankind.

Adams is definitely the star of this show, and her performance is compelling enough to keep the story going even as it sags due to a surprising lack of suspense. Not that I expect every intergalactic science fiction flick to portray an alien invasion as evil, but in this case there’s really no enemy to root against as we pull for Louise to solve the mystery of the squid-like “Heptapod” arrival and attempt to communicate. There’s a series of flashbacks shown throughout the film (which turn out to be something else entirely) that are intercut too frequently with the main story as it unfolds, making for a choppy experience.

The somber cinematography by Bradford Young is reminiscent of a surreal Zdzisław Beksiński painting. Young is best known for shooting Selma and is next slated for the new Star Wars movie, but perhaps his most beautiful work was on a little-known indie called Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. His work on that was compared to classic Terrence Malick visuals. The picture is nicely underscored by composer Jóhann Jóhannsson.

In the plus column, Arrival feels like a dreamily updated version of 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still. On the negative side, there’s not enough excitement or revelation to justify its two-hour runtime. See it on the big screen if you love sci-fi and don’t mind a lack of horror, but if not save it for streaming.

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