Director: Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners 2010, Sicario 2013).
Writer: Eric Heisserer (based on a short story by Ted Chiang.).
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker.
Plot: When mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team – led by expert linguist Louise Banks (Adams) – is brought together to investigate. Banks and her team, Including a brilliant physicist (Renner), race against time to find answers to why the aliens have arrived. To find them, she will take a chance that threatens her life, and possibly humanity.
CALLING this terrific film a sic-fi alien invasion thriller is doing it a huge injustice. Yes, it is all of that – with the threat of global war looming ever larger as the story progresses – but it is also a lot more.
Let’s deal with the aliens first: Always seen through a thick mist, they look like a cross between a giant squid and a jellyfish; when they talk, they sound like something that incorporates the songs of deep-ocean whales, and the roars of big cats.
So, seriously other-worldly. And yet it is the humans, struggling to interpret these alien beings and understand why they have arrived on Earth, who are the real focus of the film’s attention.
Adams (Nocturnal Animals; Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) is superb as the expert whose intuitive feel for other languages develops into something much more startling as the film moves towards its tense climax.
Renner (Captain America: Civil War) is also very good in his more understated role as the scientist trying to apply brain power in the middle of a growing military crisis.
Despite the abundance of military hardware on screen, what Villeneuve has produced is a philosophical musing about life, and how much we determine the shape of our own lives, as well as a meditation on our contact with, and understanding of, death.
Arrival plays, devastatingly at the end, with its audience’s understanding of time.
And while it is visually exciting, it is the power of language – its ability to bring us together or drive us apart – that lies at the heart of the story. Let’s hear it for the linguist as super hero!
Cinema 2016: the films I’ve seen this year and what I thought of them.