Directed by Denis Villeneuve
“Arrival”. Hmm… so… okay… imagine if Terence Malick (in his “Tree of Life” phase) had made “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” but WITH Denis Villeneuve’s attention to tension. This should give you a decent idea of what you’re walking in to stylistically. It’s a lovely film…and that is not something one says often about scifi thrillers…if “Arrival” can even be labelled thus.
Exploring the very nature of time, memory, communication and connection, “Arrival” spends a lot of its two hour running-time telling you how important it is, which like “Tree of Life”, could be disastrous. But about halfway through, you realize these themes, and the way they’re delivered, ARE important. You SHOULD be thinking…and judging…and doubting, throughout. Just as in “Sicario”, Villeneuve is less interested in dictating a story than he is in hoping that story leaves you anxious to discuss what you thought the story meant. And, even though it is decidedly NOT a mindless summer action space film (and those who go for that type of entertainment will be sorely disappointed if not outright annoyed) it moves at a pace that is never dull, even as it tackles these large themes.
And that is true, not because of the performances, but in spite of them. Full disclosure, I am not an Amy Adams fan. With very few exceptions, I find her to be overemotional and overtly dramatic. This is true here, as well. She’s not bad, but without such an interesting script, I might have checked out earlier. Renner is better than he has been, but really is a second fiddle at best. And Whitaker and Stuhlgard don’t really get to do anything. No, the best performance in “Arrival” is due solely to the sound editors/mixers and art directors. The aliens steal this show.
Utilizing Max Richter’s 2004 composition, “On the Nature of Daylight” to perfection, as well as a really interesting score from Johann Johannsson, the film sounds as good as it looks. In fact, part of why the film seems to move so well, is due to Johannsson’s understanding of Villenueve’s approach to a three act structure.
This is a really well made film about really big ideas. It has tons of heart and a large dollop of intellectualism. And it looks and sounds beautiful. I’m not prepared to call it a great movie, but I might as my proximity to screening lengthens. It’s definitely worth seeing in a theater, if for no other reason than to talk about it to whomever you see it with (…or me)!
Written on 11/17/2016