|Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner in ARRIVAL.|
By George M. Thomas
First thought regarding sci-fi thriller ARRIVAL when reading its synopsis: this should be a summer movie.
After watching ARRIVAL, there’s no way this elegant, intelligent film should have been abandoned to the morass of air conditioned multiplexes where those younger than 13-years-old get to decide its fate.
Because ARRIVAL deserves a far better one than the season of explosions could ever give it. Written by Eric Heisserer from a short story by Ted Chiang and directed by Denis Villeneuve (Sicario), ARRIVAL possesses the wonder and whimsy of the Steven Spielberg classic CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, the intellectual heft of the underappreciated CONTACT, and the emotional resonance of both.
Yet, ARRIVAL is completely unique and stands on its own as a revealing piece of sci-fi cinema. The last time I remember feeling this way after a movie in this genre was walking out of the screening of CONTACT, which was based on a Carl Sagan’s book.
What else do they share? A compelling, strong woman in the lead role. Amy Adams stars as Dr. Louise Brooks, an expert linguist and a college professor dealing with the death of her daughter. She seems to be in a perpetual funk to the point that when aliens arrive in selected spots across the globe, she is indifferent to what’s happening.
She’s forced to wake up to the reality when Army Col. Weber (Forrest Whitaker) shows up seeking her expertise regarding those visitors. The two have a checkered history together, but she is the best in her field. Joining them theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). They head to Wyoming (an homage to CE3K) where the United States’ visitors have landed.
The Army needs someone who can establish communication with the beings – giant squid-like creatures – who’ve landed. Brooks and Donnelly have to accomplish that duty, work that turns out to require not only their intelligence, but patience as well. They learn the creatures’ “written” word.
However, consider the U.S. isn’t in this situation alone There are other alien ships and other countries dealing with the same set of circumstances and for some – the Chinese for instance – patience isn’t a virtue.
That’s a tipping point in ARRIVAL for the very simple reason that, as ambitious as it is, one has to ask a very basic question: from where will the tension come? And what it generates turns out to be crucial to the story, adding to the film’s mystery.
Adams, Renner and Whitaker deliver tremendous performances in serving that mystery. Adams’ is especially memorable filled with raw emotion to go with the curiosity she imbues Brooks.
ARRIVAL, in fact, is one huge mystery. It asks the audience two key questions about life and existence without providing clear-cut the answers. Perhaps that’s why many in the audience I sat with were in such a quandary after leaving the theater.
No, I won’t spoil that in this space, because sometimes it’s good when a film leaves you with more questions than answers when it’s capable of doing so. That fact alone makes ARRIVAL one of the best films of the year.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forrest Whitaker
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language
Running time: 116 minutes
George’s rating: 3.5-of-4 stars