GUESS WORK: Adams plays a linguist, opposite Renner, a physicist, embarking on a tough assignment.
“Why are they here?” “What do they want?” As the world breaks out into a state of panic (and the US President declares a state of emergency) over the appearance of 12 mysterious spacecrafts at random spots all over the globe, everyone is demanding answers to these questions and more.
It is up to a college professor and communictions pro named Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), who is mourning the death of her young daughter, and a theoretical physicist named Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), working with no-nonsense US Army colonel G.T. Weber (Forest Whittaker), to make a breakthrough in the mission to extract answers from these seemingly extraterrestrial invaders before global warfare breaks out.
That’s the basic premise of Arrival, a moody and moderately paced sci-fi drama/thriller that allows audiences to imagine what could play out if such events did come to pass. As far as alien invasion movies go, Arrival is not of the loud and bombastic variety (Alien, Alien Resurrection) nor the cluttered, jarring type (Dictrict 9). Instead, under the light, sure-handed direction of Denis Villeneuve, what we experience is largely interrogative and atmospheric – a story that grows suspenseful and intense as it heads to its pulse-pounding climax.
The sight of the alien vessel is truly something to behold – a massive oblong object that seems to touch the sky. Picture the World Trade Centre tower in the shape of a big black egg. In addition to Montana, where most of the action unfolds, the vessels have shown up in Venezuela, Australia, Greenland, Russia and China, which is itching to launch an attack.
Playing the overburdened Dr. Banks and Donnelly, Adams and Renner are in fine form and share an appealing rapport, which perhaps explains why they are able to gradually break down the barriers as they “communicate” with these foreigners – an undertaking that involves analyzing audio recordings and devising clever visual-aid techniques.
Though the movie earns some cool points for its unconventional approach to the ‘alien crisis’ genre of filmmaking, Arrival is not without its faults. We don’t get a strong sense of how the situation was being handled in the other locations, crucial to our overall understanding of the global crisis that ensues – and the movie’s eventual conclusion, stemming from the big-reveal-moment is a bit of a letdown.
Still, kudos are due to the writing/directorial duo of Villeneuve and Eric Heisserer (whose screenplay is based on a short story) for skilfully fusing fantasy and speculative storytelling to create a trippy but endlessly fascinating cinematic experience. Tyrone’s Verdict: B