Thinking about ARRIVAL in the days since I saw it, I’m trying to remember the last time I watched a sci-fi movie which started out smart and just kept getting smarter.
Most sci-fi films start off with a good idea, a hook they use to reel the audience in with. But most of them are then content to just play around with that one hook and that one idea, talking it to its limit. ARRIVAL though builds on it, throws new things into the mix, even indulges with a bit of sleight of hand with the audience to reveal a film that is intriguing, smart and affecting in equal measure.
When I’m reviewing old Hammer movies, I’m quite laissez faire about spoilers. They’re at least forty-plus years old so it doesn’t matter. Here though, because there are lots of people out there – like myself and Mrs Jameson – who don’t get to the cinema frequently, and ARRIVAL is only just available on DVD, I’m doing my best to be careful.
(Of course, one of the elements I most enjoy in reviewing those old Hammer movies – as much as I love them – is pointing out the glaring plot-holes. Needless to say there is nothing so egregious here.)
The plot is one of my absolute favourite subsets of sci-fi movies, the benevolent aliens visiting Earth plot. (CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND is, and will always remain, one of my Top Ten films). Amy Adams is superb as the linguist sent in to try and communicate with them, while Jeremy Remner as her scientist counterpart is as good as I’ve ever seen him (Forrest Whittaker and Michael Stuhlbarg are both good without being stretched).
What really sets the film apart though is the direction. I’ve also seen Denis Villeneuve’s previous efforts, PRISONERS and SICARIO, and undoubtedly he likes a greyness of palate. It gives his films a crisp and professional look, and that choice really makes sense for both this and SICARIO, as they are about experts doing their jobs. The stories may be tense and/or fantastical, but they are about professionals in their place of work. Yet what really sets this movie in particular apart is how emotionally involved the film makes the audience. It’s a slow burner perhaps – watching other people work in a methodical way isn’t the most immediately gripping – but as it intrigues and piques curiosity, the film brings us in so that we’re invested with both mind and soul.
Genuinely, this isn’t hyperbole in any way, ARRIVAL is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a very long while.