No matter what your thoughts about Arrival as a whole, the good news is that the Blade Runner sequel is in good directorial hands. To my shame, this is the first Denis Villeneuve film I’ve ever seen – Prisoners, Incendies, Sicario and Enemy all having passed me by – but gosh, if Arrival is anything to go by, Villeneuve is a director to be reckoned with.
Amy Adams plays Dr Louise Banks, a renowned linguist called upon to initiate communication between the human race and the newly-arrived aliens who’ve parked their massive spaceships in a dozen locations around the globe. She is accompanied by scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and overseen by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker).
The build up towards each reveal is brilliant, and recalls the best bits of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In fact, mix that film with Robert Zemeckis’ Contact and you’d have a good sense of Arrival. The visuals are cold and stark, whether we are talking about Louise’s absurdly large lake house or the mysterious monoliths that hover above the Earth, waiting for us mere Earthlings to initiate contact. The visuals are wonderfully complemented by the absurdly hardworking Jóhann Jóhannsson, who’s fast becoming one of the most in-demand composers working right now. His haunting work here dabbles in the genres of drone and dark ambient, and crucially never distracts from the events onscreen.
The slow reveal of the ship and its occupants is a masterclass in building anticipation, and I constantly found myself trying to look around the corners of the film frame, desperate to see that which was just out of sight. The step-by-step nature of learning a completely alien language is also fascinating, as are all the unique attributes of the aliens and their craft. I also liked that Louise didn’t have some kind of childhood calling like Jodie Foster’s character in Contact; she was simply really, really good at her job.
Renner’s role is less than satisfactory. Initially we’re led to believe that Ian’s scientific method will be at odds with Louise’s focus on language, yet it’s never really explained what his speciality is. He just kind of loiters in the background, helping out Louise. He isn’t the focus of the film and that’s fine, but I would have appreciated some character development on his part.
Despite the title, for me Arrival was all about the journey; the destination is less thrilling. The final act is acceptable, but nowhere near as brilliant as the slow build that comprises the bulk of the film. However, this is a masterfully crafted feature, and one that deserves to be seen on the big screen.Rating: