A superbly orchestrated close encounter movie that’s once elegant, beguiling, and a work of imagination. Arrival easily boasts the best cinematography of the year. When you see alien pods hovering above land in twelve separate locations across the globe the grandeur also has a rawness to that you can’t call out for looking fake. Only one of the pods has landed in America, in the state of Montana, and it’s up to linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) who has been plucked by the U.S. military to decipher their language, and ask them, “What is your purpose on Earth?”
Some other countries that have alien pod occupation have misinterpreted their intentions and are wary, if not, hostile. That’s how “Arrival” gets going saying something about the divide of global communication. China, Russia and Venezuela start preparing to be on the offensive with these aliens, after they learn that the aliens want to say something in regards to “Offer weapon.” What do they mean by that? Is that the correct interpretation?
The course of the movie has Adams and theoretical physicist Ian Connelly (Jeremy Renner, regretfully second fiddle), in repeat invitations into their alien pod, engage in a series of close-up interviews with aliens. They speak in echoes similar to whales and emit black smoke hieroglyphs resembling the concepts of Sanskrit. The aliens would seem willing to spend years doing these interviews, since they don’t seem restrained by time. But there is a race against the clock urgency to decode and decipher, because the American military is ready to run parallel to rules of engagement policies being run by the rest of the world.
Our protagonists don’t believe in cowering. Adams is the most enormously appealing of actresses, and her warmth and inquisitiveness are a tremendous welcome to this material. I still feel Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind” (1977) is the granddaddy of the alien contact genre. That film still has its influence even in a film like “Arrival.” But “Close Encounters” with Richard Dreyfus and Francois Truffaut never met the equivalent of emotional intelligence that an actress like Adams imbues. She’s also a true heroic woman. The backstory of Adams fated relationship with her daughter becomes enveloped into the main plot, which oddly is contrived (I was a doubter for a few minutes, yet touched by it when I gave it time). The extra riddles of “Arrival” admittedly has the viewer spending some mentally straining time patching some connections together and coming up with messy answers. The effort of doing that is fruitful, but in all honesty, it seems like only a select few — not humankind at large — would ever be true beneficiaries of the aliens’ offer, if one would choose to accept it.
There is mysterious beauty here, nonetheless, and what you see and feel is very impressive. It bowls you over and has you pondering positively. The director here is Denis Villenueve who has become hot since “Sicario,” although I liked “Prisoners” and his obscure French-Canadian political thriller “Incendies” more than that one. But “Arrival” is the grandly staged and intelligent popcorn crowd pleaser I knew he was capable of, and his most special work to date.
116 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
SCI-FI & FANTASY / MIND-BENDER / SPECIAL WEEKEND EVENINGS
Film Cousins: “Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind” (1977); “The Abyss” (1989); “The Arrival” (1996); “Monsters” (2010).