When most people think of alien films, it feels like the default genre is sci-fi action, where the action hero fight against the extraterrestrial species before they take over the Earth. But thanks to a short story by Ted Chiang and Sicario director Denis Villeneuve, alien intelligence is the new focus of sci-fi, rather than alien invasion.
Arrival follows linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), who is approached by the US Government after twelve UFOs land on Earth. Teaming up with mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and Colonel Weber (Forest Whittaker), Louise is tasked to find out why the vessels have landed on Earth before war takes place.
As mentioned before, Arrival takes a different approach when dealing with aliens. Instead of the usual all-out attack, the story revolves around the characters establishing what they are dealing with, using the most basic tool – communication. The screenplay by Eric Heisserer focuses on this concept and the science behind it, as well as reiterate its importance throughout the film. The theme of communication is consistent throughout the film. In similar films about aliens, there has been a fear of why they have chosen to come to Earth but a lack of communication has always prevented mutual understanding, which tends to result in explosions and mass destruction. In Arrival, this is why Louise is an integral character.
Louise is the US-appointed bridge between mankind and the aliens, and the way she approaches them shows a deeper understanding of what can be achieved without resorting to violence. Through her knowledge with languages, she connects with them on a higher level and elevates the film to another level.
In terms of casting, Amy Adams is brilliant. Delivering such a multifaceted role, her performance as Louise reflects her inner turmoil concerning her linguistic capabilities, not to mention the concept of the future of mankind in her hands. Although slightly underused, Renner’s Donnelly brings in charm and good-naturedness that balances Louise’s fragility, while Whittaker and Michael Stuhlbarg portray the no-nonsense government men.
Behind the camera, Villeneuve’s direction combines the emotional stress of Louise’s task while keeping the aliens in the background, showing a mature, refreshing approach in dealing with extraterrestrial life in cinema. Guns are swapped with whiteboards, and actions with words – it’s almost an academic experiment, and one that is rarely seen in sci-fi cinema.
Overall, Arrival is astonishing, thought-provoking filmmaking with a career-defining role for Adams.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whittaker, Michael Stuhlbarg
Runtime: 116 min