This is one of the hardest films to review this year because while it deserves immense praise for being a ‘thinking person’s’ sci-fier – you could potentially argue that more was anticipated ... from a certain perspective at least, writes reviewer Gavin Miller.
After getting rave reviews in critic circles worldwide – Arrival is helmed by acclaimed Sicario (incidentally my favourite film of last year) and Prisoners director Denis Villeneuve – this has plenty of ‘meat on the bone’ but maybe not in the places you’d really expect for an extra terrestrial movie, which could leave to some heavy hypothetical ‘fence sitting’ for some cinema goers.
While there’s undoubtedly a tremendously inventive script at play – headlined by a great central performance from Oscar-nominee Amy Adams (Man of Steel) – which is always headlined by the emotive underlying story of grief, it delivers in a very ‘grown-up’ (so to speak) fashion in lots of areas, but where it may bizarrely fall short is the actual lack of weighty science-fiction.
When mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team – led by expert communications translating linguist Dr Louise Banks (Adams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (fellow Oscar-nominee Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker), at the behest of Forest Whitaker’s (The Last King of Scotland Oscar-winner) US Army colonel – are brought together to investigate the potentially imminent threat.
With the ships strategically placed across the planet (ours is actually in Devon, just for reference) it’s a race against time for Banks and her team to find out whether the extra terrestrial arrival is peaceful or not – particularly with General Shang (Tzi Ma) losing patience with his finger on the ‘proverbial’ trigger wanting to blow China’s hovering space ship out of the sky.
But proceedings are always punctuated by Banks’ story of loss – still grieving after losing her 12-year-old daughter Hannah to cancer several years previous – and this always plays an important (if not THE most important) role in the movie. And there’s also a nice twist on this at the end.
Ultimately the dearth of any real alien interaction (of course it doesn’t have to be Independence Day) may seem like a refreshing change to some – as human emotions vicariously become the overriding factor – but Villeneuve’s methodical pacing won’t be to everyone’s tastes.
And if you’re expecting another Contact (the excellent 1997 Jodie Foster flick), this isn’t it.
There’s probably not quite enough sci-fi gravy on the plate to make this as replayable as the sensational Interstellar and noteworthy The Martian have been to fill this slot over the past couple of years – but this arrival is an intriguing and intelligent specimen nevertheless.
It’s basically the sci-fi equivalent to The Revenant; and if you answer the question to whether you liked that or not – that will tell you if you’re going to enjoy this.