The sci-fi genre is synonymous with alien invasions, and battles to save the human race from an almighty threat. Tackling this theme from a different angle with Arrival is critically acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve, adapting Story of your Life, a short story written by Ted Chiang. The plot follows linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) who is approached by US military officer Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) when twelve extraterrestrial spacecrafts land on Earth sparking worldwide panic. Tasked with communicating with the alien life form alongside theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), she must translate their language in order to decipher how and more importantly why they are here.
As Louise and her colleagues venture to the unknown and approach the alien beings, an powerfully exciting atmosphere is created by Villeneuve that grips and doesn’t let go. The pulsing score from Jóhann Jóhannsson amplifies this but unlike most sci-fi flicks, the intensity isn’t born from fear or danger. Instead it is intrigue that holds the attention and Eric Heisserer’s intelligently crafted script drives this, avoiding sensationalism to focus on intellect and science. Though the story is futuristic and far-fetched, the film is about humanity more than anything else. It explores life, loss, love and our mortality, and does so with flair and aplomb.
Amy Adams is perfect for the leading role, and gives a genuine, terrifically moving performance. Despite her Hollywood stature, she holds the quality to breathe life into a character that is very ordinary, but with extraordinary talent and courage. She combines well with Jeremy Renner who is strong also, providing occasional humour to the piece but taking a back seat to his co-star for the most part. Solid support comes from a relatively minimal cast, with Boardwalk Empire star Michael Stuhlbarg impressing as Agent Halpern, an irritating but important figure who represents the voice of unreason.
In the current climate, Arrival is crucial cinema, highlighting the significance of communication in a world with so much conflict. Posing probing questions of existentialism, we are thrust into unfamiliar territory, embarking on Louise’s challenging and emotional path alongside her and making discoveries along the way which lead us not only to become absorbed in Louise’s life but to take a step back and reflect on our own. Denis Villeneuve continues a hugely formidable run of filmmaking form to give a mind-bending, thought-provoking cinematic experience that has a lasting impact long after the credits roll.