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  • Writer's pictureAndrew D Duffy

Film Review: Arrival

Arrival (2016)

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Screenplay: Eric Heisserer

Based upon the Novel 'Story Of Your Life' by Ted Chiang

Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker Michael Stuhlbarg and Tzi Ma

And so it came to pass, on the sixteenth day of the twelfth month, 2016, that two Glasgow Geeks sat in the cinema watching a science Fiction film.

We were far from alone, of course; the cinema was filled to the brim with geeks, cramming in to screening after screening of a well known fixture of popular culture.

But not these two geeks.

No, these two geeks were there for an entirely different kind of Science Fiction movie, one that did more in moments of silence than could ever be accomplished by the whizzes, the bangs and the pew pews of any Star War.

Arrival was a film Duffy The Younger and I had been meaning to see since we saw the first pleasingly enigmatic trailer. This looked like proper Science Fiction; thoughtful and thought provoking, aiming high and shooting for substance. Suffice to say, expectations were high. Somehow, though, it's a film that almost slipped through our fingers as we struggled to fit a trip to the Pictures into our schedule. I was almost sure that we'd missed our chance to see it on the big screen, and it was only on a whim that I checked out the cinema schedule.

And there it was.

We hadn't missed it, after all.

And boy were we pleased for this slice of good fortune.

Arrival is the sort of film you should see on the biggest screen you can find. The grand scale really befits it, justifying the often eye-watering price tag for a modest seat in the multiplex. Director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners) delivers a visual spectacle; perhaps not a visual spectacle as the battery of blockbusters have left many of us to understand them, all sound and fury, but it's every inch a visual spectacle nonetheless.

And unlike those other films, Arrival is signifying plenty.

So for the many of you reading who missed their chance to see this at the movie-theatre, as we nearly did, all is not lost. Take the achingly beautiful shot composition, the serenely wonderful and suitably otherworldly cinematography and the frankly gob-smacking visual splendour of Arrival away and you are left with an impressively intelligent film that asks, answers, stirs and deeply, keenly feels.

Let's be frank and up front; Arrival goes big on the science. It draws repeatedly, and unashamedly, from the well of speculative science to prop up its fiction, to examine what might happen should First Contact be established today, in our world, in a less Independence Day-ey kind of way than we're used to seeing.

It's a film about the transformative and transcendent power of communication, which it argues is the first and best path towards understanding, co-operation and peace. It's a film about the fascinatingly complex nature of communication and the beauty inherent within it.

The official synopsis goes like this- When mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team--lead by expert linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams)--are brought together to investigate. As mankind teeters on the verge of global war, Banks and the team race against time for answers--and to find them, she will take a chance that could threaten her life, and quite possibly humanity.

Amy Adams is, as you might expect, sensational. The deftness of her expression, the use of voice, the wisdom of her judgement, her use of stillness and silence to speak volumes... It's nothing short of remarkable, this stunningly affecting performance.

Adams, Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer deliberately imbue Louise with none of the usual lead character personality traits- roguish charm, showy charisma, cocksure confidence, one-liner-itis, square-jawed heroism- and instead turn thoughtful and considered intelligence, professional, restrained focus and quiet softness into heroism.

It's an achievement in writing and directing, but the lions share of the credit has to go to Amy Adams herself, in what just might be the performance of the year. She does more with one facial gesture of conflicting emotions than many actors will manage in an entire film, encapsulating the class which permeates this entire production from opening frame to curtain closer. Adams is ably supported by a pleasingly understated Jeremy Renner as physicist Ian Donnelly, who seems to relish the chance to do some proper acting again, and Forrest Whittaker as Colonel Webber, an actor who never seems to fail to make films better.

For most directors, assembling, and getting the best out of, this high-calibre cast would be achievement enough. Yet Villeneuve manages to go beyond this, pacing his film with a symphonic grace that seems all the fresher when held up against its contemporaries, particular in the Sci-Fi field. He crafts a film that twists, bends and inspires the mind whilst simultaneously stirs, breaks and reinvigorates the heart.

And that's underneath the aesthetic masterclass from a director who had this reviewer spellbound from beginning to end.

You've never seen a First Contact movie like this before.

It's a celebration of communication and language, a meditation on loss, grief, time, hope and love, with an ending that provokes genuinely heady discussion about all of the above and more. Cerebral, moving and long-lingering in the memory, Arrival is a film that demands to be seen, whether you manage to catch it on the big screen or not.

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