Friday, November 11, 2016

A Reel Review: ARRIVAL

In cinema, aliens have been arriving on Earth for tens of decades with all sorts of intentions. There have been those who want to kill, kidnap, and torture us, and there have been others who want to befriend and educate us…with the occasional one who just wants to hang out and eat candy. The genre can feel stale sometimes, which makes the landing of Denis Villeneuve’s ARRIVAL very timely…and what a landing it is.

Twelve mysterious alien craft have arrived across the globe and sends the world into a panic. To discover their intentions, the U.S. government enlists the help of Louise (Amy Adams), a troubled language professor, and Ian (Jeremy Renner), a theoretical physicist. Under the command of U.S. Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) and CIA Agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg), the team races to communicate with the silent aliens before the world tears itself apart.

The most important question ever to be answered when aliens arrive on Earth is, what are their intentions; to destroy, or befriend us? ARRIVAL spends most of its time with its characters trying to solve this mystery, which is a monumental process. The large, tentacled aliens do not speak and only communicate with strange symbols, and Louise and her team have their work cut for them in learning the language and figuring out how to communicate back. It’s a race against the clock, as the more hostile nations of the world are gearing up for war, which of course makes every other country nervous enough to mobilize their military.

Despite the massive, worldwide events that are happening here, ARRIVAL is still very much a deep character piece. Louise has some serious demons that she’s dealing with the whole time, and as an intellectual, uses her troubles to her advantage in deciphering the alien code. However, towards the end, ARRIVAL presents a mind-bending, gut-punching, breath-taking, brain-destroying TWIST which flips the entire film upside-down. It is executed perfectly and not just for shock value, as it justifies the arrival of the aliens and Louise’s personal issues, and by the time the credits roll, the true meaning of the film comes as a revelation. It is so good, one would want to immediately view the film again.

Denis Villeneuve shoots, frames, and edits his film with meticulous care. Pacing is perfect, and every shot has an expressed purpose. It is beautifully shot, and Johann Johannsson’s score adds to the ominous atmosphere. Pacing is tight, humor is well-timed, and the surprises are perfectly executed.

Amy Adams does an outstanding job here. Her character’s personal struggles drives her, and with a single glance can convey the amount of turmoil she’s going through underneath. Jeremy Renner is equally outstanding. His character is like a kid in a candy store when boarding the alien craft, and although his character is a little undercooked, he later benefits from that big ol’ twist. Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg are excellent as always.

Besides aliens and Louise, ARRIVAL has a lot of themes going on. The worldwide conflict over the alien ships speaks towards how this very world behaves towards each other. Villeneuve never gets preachy, and long after the credits finish, there is a lot to talk and think about for hours. ARRIVAL won’t set any new trends for the genre as it is so good in its ambition and execution, it can never be copied. It flies high above the crowded skies of sci-fi, and that makes it a masterpiece.


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