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Review: Arrival

Denis Villeneuve is a director of great interest to me at the moment as he is directing the sequel to Blade Runner, the 1982 sci-fi classic that I and so many others adore. Because he was also at the helm for Arrival (another sci-fi film) I knew I would be as critical as possible of it, as if Arrival was the mock exam and I was the examiner.

Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly in ARRIVAL by Paramount Pictures
Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly.

The film stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker as scientists who investigate an alien spacecraft in an attempt to understand the reason for it being on Earth. Adams plays language expert Dr Louise Banks whose skills are being used to translate what the aliens say.

Adams plays the role with such great subtlety and inviting softness that she absorbs you into her journey of deciphering the aliens’ language. This is also the first film in which I thought Jeremy Renner was effective in his role. In fairness to Renner I have mainly seen him in The Avengers where he usually makes jokes that fall completely flat, however he does do a very good job here!

The atmosphere of the film is what really sells it. For a film about science fiction it is incredibly down to earth, with the reactions of the humans on Earth seeming similar to how people might respond should aliens ever actually choose to say hello. This gripping atmosphere makes the story and characters all the more relatable, keeping the audience intrigued as some quite intellectual ideas are thrown at us.

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Dr Banks trying to communicate with the aliens in their language.

Arrival is a film that makes you think; after the intellectual topics are set out we are given time to digest them. The story does not hold your hand and you need to keep focused in order to keep on top of what is going on. The script is watertight. It is just over a day since I saw it and I still find myself linking various moments, realising just how compact the script is and how many hints you are given about the ending before you spot it.

The cinematography is beautiful, with notable moments including long shots of landscapes being matched with the inside of an alien vessel, the production design of which is remarkable.

Amy Adams as Louise Banks in ARRIVAL by Paramount Pictures
Amy Adams as Louise Banks, another example of how well-shot Arrival is.

The themes of humanity coming together and the threat that we pose towards each other both feature in the film and they are incredibly important in today’s world, not least because of the latest big decision taken by the American people.

Arrival is one of the best sci-fi films to come out in the 21st Century. I have not seen science fiction this good since the release of Interstellar in 2014, and I doubt I will see another for a while. That is unless Blade Runner 2049 really surprises me next October, which Villeneuve could manage to do. This film will be remembered as a science fiction classic far more fondly than unintelligent sci-fi blockbusters like Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be.

★★★★★