When a dozen shell like spacecraft arrive over key locations around the world, linguistics expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams) leads a team of investigators.
Arrival is many things. A love story, an alien invasion flick, a study of grief and longing, and a drama about communication all rolled into one.
What it actually is is revealed in the final minutes and packs one of the biggest emotional punches of the year. Though punch is too strong a word. It’s more of a tap, hitting part of your soul that resonates.
Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner are always great and here they offer a solid emotional anchor to a project that could have floated away like the dozen ships at the heart of the movie.
The scenes of human-alien interaction cleverly take place in an arena that looks like a movie theatre with no seats. We relate to the heroes witnessing what looks like a giant interactive movie. There are echoes of Torchwood’s ETs, only more benign, or are they?
After his powerhouse dramas Prisoners and Sicario, Denis Villeneuve has struck gold again, delivering a compelling tale with an aptly alien score.
Some movies signpost their messages a while in advance but this takes its time revealing the heart-rending core of its tale.
I left the theatre with a deep sense of melancholy and empathy. Yes it’s a film that has a start, middle and end, but not how you might think.
Though marketed as an Independence Day-style thriller, it’s really an art house movie, more reminiscent of Under the Skin and Day the Earth Stood Still than the less commercial, cerebral movie it is. Like all the best films, such as Lost in Translation and Eternal Sunshine, this lingers long after the credits have rolled.
Obviously it’s not perfect. A ticking clock plot twist feels contrived, and those responsible seem brushed under the carpet too easily, but it’s not a deal breaker. When the key to the third act’s denouement comes it feels right given the context.
There are inevitable comparisons with Contact, Jodie Foster’s 1997 sci-fi epic which involved a female protagonist, aliens, subterfuge and big ideas, but that was let down by a cop out finale which looked like it belonged in a Bounty advert. This avoids such pitfalls.
A repeat viewing is almost essential.
My passion for Blade Runner 2 has been building for years, and given Villeneuve’s track record so far, I doubt he’s going to drop the ball with that sequel.