Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Eric Heisserer
Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
With every film he makes, director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario) becomes more and more THE modern filmmaker to watch. Prisoners impresses with its mastery of tension, Enemy smacks you across the face with its strange intricacy, and Sicario absolutely floors you with its masterfully intense, yet remarkably small-scale look at a massive real-world crime war.
Naturally, as soon as I saw the first preview for Arrival, I was in 100%. I can tell you right now, Denis did not disappoint me one iota; however, that’s not to say that American audiences are going to eat it up, as it’s certainly not the alien invasion movie that we’ve become accustomed to seeing. Regardless, Arrival is a movie that’s best seen spoiler-free, so I’ll attempt to be extra careful in that area…
EVERYTHING! Denis & writer, Eric Heisserer, wisely turn the alien invasion movie on its head. As someone who is getting sick of seeing aliens invade followed by explosions, explosions, and more explosions, I was thrilled to see something far more cerebral and intimate. The brilliance of all of Denis Villeneuve’s work is that he takes a story that could become too large in another’s hands and makes sure the focus remains solely on a very personal and human journey. Arrival is his best example of this yet. Having recently welcomed my first child into the world, the story hit me especially hard – that’s all I’ll say.
Speaking of the story, the plot also holds up exceptionally well without the big twist, which some filmmakers would lean too heavily on. Sadly, walking into the theater, I overheard an elderly couple discussing the movie and completely ruined the big twist for me. While I would have loved to go in completely clean, I still loved every moment. (Either way – damn you, blue hairs!)
Much like my first experience with Sicario, I was absolutely gutted walking out of Arrival – in the best of ways. Amy Adams turns in one of the best performances of her career thus far. That’s not to take away from Jeremy Renner or Forrest Whitaker’s performances, but the movie revolves around and hinges on Amy Adams – and she delivers like a damn UPS truck on NOS.
Another pleasant surprise is the tightness of Eric Heisserer’s script. Considering that I’ve found most of his other genre work (the Nightmare on Elm Street remake, The Thing remake, and Lights Out) to come across as fairly lazy & unimaginative, I was pleasantly surprised by the timeliness of the script in the current worldwide political environment and also that there were no cut corners here. The question then becomes, should we be crediting Eric, Denis, or the original writer of the short story that the film is based. My guess is Denis had a big hand in molding the story, as he did in previous films. Regardless, there’s not a lot of fat to trim here. So, thanks, whoever you are.
Finally, Jóhann Jóhannsson knocks another film score out of the park with his unusual and always interesting choices. This score may not get under your skin quite as much as his work in Sicario, but it certainly doesn’t play by the rules, which is always a welcomed choice.
Honestly, I have no harsh words to throw in this column. I can absolutely see some people nitpicking on Forest Whitaker’s accent in the film or the pacing of the movie overall, but, to me, this one really has no initial weaknesses to speak of.
Arrival is not only a new spin on the alien invasion film genre in every way, it’s just a solid example of great, touching, timely, and wholly enveloping storytelling. While Denis Villeneuve was already on my “top filmmakers to watch” list, this film only strengthens my interest in everything he releases – including the upcoming Blade Runner 2049 (October 2017 can’t come soon enough…)
This is the definition of must-see film-making, folks. Go, watch, and be moved.
Current Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Current IMDB Score: 8.5 out of 10
My Score: 10 out of 10