In Films by James Hay - Cinema Editor

Arrival starts as it means to go on, with a hyper-stylish and realistic approach to the Sci-Fi genre. No wonder on the style front, as at the helm is Denis Villeneuve, the director behind Prisoners and Sicario. The realism plays out in the opening minutes by the (SPOILER ALERT: THERE ARE ALIENS IN THIS FILM) aliens having ‘arrived’ already. This avoids wasted time building tension and suspense waiting for what is inevitable. If aliens were to rock up to Earth to say hi, then they’d probably do just that. So, we’re thrown straight into the action and can happily get on with things. Aliens arrive on Earth, that’s cool, let’s deal with it.

Amy Adams plays Dr. Louise Banks, a leading linguist and translator whom the American military, through the guise of the ever-dependable but increasingly underwhelming Forest Whitaker, approach to help them make contact and attempt communication with the new arrivals. Banks is teamed up with Ian Donnelly, played commendably by Jeremy Renner, and so begins their adventure.

It’s problematic to go into any more detail without completely spoiling the plot and subsequently the entire point of watching the film. However, what can be said is that it’s a tremendously well crafted, (albeit, ultimately, not quite as…) intelligent (…as it would like to think it is) and visually stunning addition to both Villeneuve’s and the genre’s canon. Worth a mention is the fantastic sound design. So, there, it got a mention.

Let down rather disappointingly by a couple of somewhat hackneyed/crow-barred moments of critical exposition, just when it needed to twist and turn its way out of its chrysalis into its beautifully baffling butterfly conclusion. That rather leaves a sour taste in the mouth, after so much slow-burning anticipation and expectation. So close to being something truly astounding, Arrival still deserves hefty praise, even if it falls somewhat foul of having to compromise and cater to a broader audience by dumbing-down its enigmatic potential. The questions it engages with should, perhaps, remain unanswered to allow the viewer scope to ponder. As it is, it’s notable as a beautiful art-house Sci-Fi movie. 

Not quite as cerebral and mystifying as it could/should be but still a striking addition to the science fiction filmic universe.