Movie Review: Arrival

Arrival is a technically well-crafted movie backed by a great performance by Amy Adams but whatever profundity it tries to achieve crumbles underneath its own pseudo-science.

When mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team is put together to investigate – including language expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams). Mankind teeters on the verge of global war as everyone scrambles for answers – and to find them, Banks will take a chance that could threaten her life, and quite possibly humanity.

Arrival came with a trailer of Amy Adams trying to decipher coffee stains. Hollywood is not always dependable in creating sci-fi flicks that aren’t mindless excuses for action tinged with jingoism, but with Sicario director Denis Villeneuve at the helm, its worth taking a look at.

Arrival comes with the same sheen as Interstellar – its trailer and premise hint of something deep and visually captivating. While Nolan focused on space exploration and the multiverse, Villeneuve tackles extraterrestrials and the cyclical nature of time.

As a UFO resembling half of a halved obsidian hovers above land, there’s a perceptible tense mystery around it thanks to the cinematography, production design, and musical score. This permeates through the film as it uses color, space and mood to complement the narrative.

Cinephiles will recognize the Malick-esque flashes of Louise’ flashbacks with its close-up shots and warm colors. The rest of the movie has a muted palette that further highlights the foreign-ness of the UFO in a mundane setting. As Louise tries to talk to shrouded “heptapods” behind a glass, there’s a physical sense that two species aren’t just trying to communicate but also understand each other. This makes for tense moments that will sustain your curiosity throughout the plot.

While extraterrestrial encounters have long been tackled in sci-fi movies, Arrival does its own distinct approach by treating it as a procedural and asking questions worth pondering along the way. As experts try to decipher the complex extraterrestrial language, what method should you use to translate alien figures into human terms? how will this method affect the results? Louise Banks believes that linguistics is the key while Ian Donnelly thinks its math. Elsewhere, China uses Mahjong.

Amy Adams is regretfully snubbed for an Oscar worthy performance. Jeremy Renner is decent enough as her foil. The rest of the supporting cast did well in providing different perspectives to the situation.

Unfortunately like Interstellar, Arrival also turns out to be a deceptively smart film. Whatever profundity it tries to achieve crumbles under the weight of its own hokey pseudo-science.

It’s thought provoking ideas become superficial statements as the plot turns into a standard alien encounter’s flick – whatever unity mankind has is dissolved by selfish self-preservation. Its contemplations are just passing events until D-Day. And when that time comes, Arrival takes plenty of liberties with its references.

The movie stretches an already controversial hypothesis beyond plausibility. It doesn’t help that this revelation is only felt by the protagonist, which makes it a far fetched and inconsequential conceit.

It can be said that you can’t expect movies to be factual, especially when your dealing with science fiction. However this supposedly deep movie abandons its potent ideas and uses it to set-up a revelation that’s as ludicrous as linguistic relativity (spoilers at the link).

While Arrival is not as smart as it claims to be, it’s still an engaging story. Even if it falls short of its lofty goals, its still a well executed movie with an affecting performance that’s enough to distract you from its logic. In the end, Arrival reminds us that we should cherish togetherness, even if its at the mercy of time.

My Rating: 7/10

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