Arrival Plot Summary:
When twelve alien ships arrive throughout the world, a language expert (Amy Adams) and scientist (Jeremy Renner) are tasked with finding out their purpose on Earth by learning how to communicate with them.
You often hear the term “Smart Sci-Fi” brought up a lot. Most of the time it’s an over blown saying. That isn’t the case with Arrival. If there was ever a movie that personified that term, it’s this one. Arrival is in the vein of The Abyss or Interstellar. They are Science Fiction movies that don’t involve giant lasers or artificial intelligence destroying the world. The movies I just compared Arrival to are phenomenal films. This might be better than both of them. It might also go down as the best movie of 2016. This movie is flat out fantastic. You want a film that will make you think? Here it is. You want a movie that will stick with you long after the credits roll? Come on down! What amazes me most is we aren’t even talking about a highly original idea here. Aliens arrive. The world freaks out. We go from there. While the plot may not be original, its approach couldn’t be more innovative.
No matter what your movie is about, character is always the most important element. You could have the greatest plot in the world, but if you don’t care about the people in the story, it doesn’t matter. Arrival knows this. We are pulled right into the movie not because of aliens or giant black space crafts. The first act is all about character. Two minutes into the film, and you are already connected to Dr. Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams. After the initial emotional onslaught, the script efficiently shows us why she’s a brilliant linguistics professor. Adams is terrific. She commands the screen, but with subtlety. She’s always fascinating. Every tick, every epiphany she has about how the aliens communicate is pure pleasure to watch.
The supporting cast is equally up to the task. Jeremy Renner is the most likable scientist ever, and his dialogue always hits. His chemistry with Adams is achieved in three seconds. Forest Whitaker is his usual solid self. His role is much needed as the Colonel who has to keep both sides happy. He understands Banks and Donnelly (Renner) need time, but also has to keep the increasingly nervous government at bay. Michael Stuhlbarg is also perfectly cast as the prototypical impatient jerk bag who is skeptical of the slow approach to understand the aliens.
As great as the characters are, it’s the content that blows you away. This is a brilliant screenplay (Eric Heisserer). In taking a concept so overdone in film (aliens arriving), but breaking it down to its bare essentials is the most fascinating college class you’ll ever take. The conversations these characters have about how the aliens need to understand the concept of a question and pronouns before they can even begin to comprehend their purpose on Earth is beyond refreshing in today’s movie landscape. Watching Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner converse with the aliens is never close to being boring.
Aside from the high concepts, this is near perfect when it comes to direction. Denis Villeneuve has already wowed with Prisoners and Sicario. Now he’s got this. This is your next great director. This guy has Christopher Nolan in him. I don’t use that comparison lightly. He takes something slow and meandering like people walking onto a ramp as they’re lifted up through a plain black space ship the most entertaining ten minutes ever. He makes it suspenseful. Everything just works. The editing. The cinematography. The score. It all flows together like a symphony.
The story ramps up at a beautiful pace. As Banks and Donnelly work methodically to understand the alien language, you can feel the tension throughout the rest of the world, but it’s barely seen. There comes a point in the movie where one word has everyone tense. From that point on, the film is riveting as hell. You feel physically nervous for everyone. That’s when you know a film is great. Every scene matters.
If I had one complaint, it’s that the third act goes on a little too long. Towards the end, the cards are pretty much laid out on the table and it’s a tad drawn out. Aside from that, Arrival is a near masterpiece. It’s one of those movies that is text book filmmaking. It’s an intense and emotionally powerful sprint to the finish line. It doesn’t leave you with a lot of ambiguity, but there’s plenty to mull over. It will be that movie this year where people will be screaming and throwing temper tantrums if it gets snubbed come Oscar time. I know I will.
Rating: 9 out of 10 (OMG)
Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.