Arrival: Amy Adams Shines in Compelling Extraterrestrial Drama

Director:  Denis Villeneuve

Screenplay: Eric Heisserer

Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma

Sci-fi, Drama

116 min

It has been quite a while since a big-budget spacecraft film has struck a genuine chord with me. Ridley Scott recently revived the Alien saga with the entertaining Prometheus, and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar was laced with a surprisingly engaging (albeit admittedly cheesy) theme about the interdimensional power of love. Both films, however, are overshadowed by the just-released ArrivalDenis Villeneuve’s ambitious take on the classic spaceship landing tale, and in which our lone heroine explores the question humans often pose when encountering the new and the strange: why are they here?

Any science fiction work worth its salt needs an organized set of concepts and ideas to drive its narrative, and Arrival succeeds by providing linguistic dimensions to the human-alien interaction. Amy Adams plays a renowned linguist Louise Banks, who helms a team of translators in an attempt to decode the speech patterns of the alien visitors. Yet the straightforward task of translating extraterrestrial banter into English becomes increasingly complicated, as Louise begins to unveil the vastly different ways in which the visitors construe reality via language.

Source: Apple


The idea of fusing communicative themes with an alien narrative is hardly a new one: many of us will recall the iconic five-tone musical phrase in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of a Third Kind, or Jodie Foster deciphering a foreign sequence of prime numbers in Contact. Villeneuve does, however, manage to paint a wondrous and original canvas of orthographic symbols and visual gestures, all of which helps convey how relations between signs and meaning are often ambiguous, elliptic and non-linear. Although the story taps into rather grandiose ideas at times, the writing never feels highfalutin. Furthermore, the talented supports (including Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg) ensure that the generally severe tone is occasionally punctured by moments of suspense, charm and levity.

The heart of the film, however, lies almost solely in Amy Adams’s singular lead as the grief-stricken yet determined language expert Louise. It never ceases to amaze how effortlessly Adams balances an array of complex emotions, and which are oftentimes rolled into one fleeting expression or gesture. The science team’s encounters with the alien presence are interspersed by Louise’s personal reveries, revealing an inner history full of joy, sadness, inspiration and devastation. These memories become more prominent to the plot during the last act, but, from the get-go, Adams commands each scene with a relentlessness that calls for nothing short of universal praise. Screw Leonardo DiCaprio, this woman is actually overdue for a Best Actress Oscar (4 nominations, zero wins)!

Source: Finnkino


Director Denis Villeneuve backs up Adam’s tour de force with a distinctly cinematic look and feel to the film. The visuals and special effects are somehow staggering yet understated at the same time. The looming oval spaceship invites immediate comparisons to the oppressive monoliths from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and background newsreels effectively tie Louise’s intimate story to the greater global anxieties that an alien invasion can trigger. Yet, even during its sparse moments of thrilling action, Adams firmly anchors the narrative to its most important function: the telling of a thought-provoking and refractive story, through which the moviegoer taps into the manifold aspects of being human. This sentiment is condensed in a wonderful line of dialogue towards the end of the film, in which a character states: “You know what surprised me most? It wasn’t meeting them. It was meeting you.” How about it, Hollywood: more of this and less of Independence Day sequels?

4 STARS (out of 5)