By Daniele Foti-Cuzzola
On the surface, Arrival may appear like another stereotypical Hollywood doomsday epic. It is, after all, packed with an A-list cast and an alien invasion plot and it is backed with a hefty Hollywood budget.
Yet, as the viewer will soon discover, there is so much more to Arrival than what meets the eye. In fact, apart from its alien invasion premise, Arrival has very little in common with the other sci-fi blockbusters that have been orbiting the cineplex.
This is no Star Wars or Independence Day; in fact, at its very heart Arrival is a profound and thought-provoking drama within a sci-fi scenario masterfully created by director Denis Villeneuve.
Based on the acclaimed short story, Story of Your Life, by Ted Chiang, Arrival is centred on the universal panic that occurs when 12 alien spaceships arrive on Earth.
As the world ensues into hysteria, the United States military enlists the help of a grieving linguist, Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams), to translate the aliens’ language and decipher where they are from and why they have come to Earth.
Screenwriter Eric Heisserer spent over six years on the script and wrote over 100 drafts, but the final product delivers. Heisserer layers the screenplay with dialogue that evokes questions about destiny and the prediction of the future.
The script also reinforces the importance of communication and the need to be tolerant and patient to understand those who differ from us. As the military pressures Banks to ask the aliens the hard-hitting questions, she reminds them that questions such as, “What do you want?” do not apply to aliens who cannot understand the concept of ‘you’ or even the concept of a question.
Five-time Academy Award Nominee Adams has built a reputation for her portrayals of larger than life characters. From a Disney Princess in Enchanted to the tough as nails Lois Lane in the Superman reboot and a con artist in American Hustle, Adams proves she can do no wrong.
Arrival sees her deliver another remarkable performance, this time in the subdued role of Banks. Adams carries the film and Arrival would fall short if it was left in the hands of a less capable actress. Despite her character’s melancholy nature, she is intriguing to watch and is bold when the occasion calls.
Adams is reunited with her American Hustle co-star Jeremy Renner, who plays a theoretical physicist, Ian Donnelly. He is involved with the mission and encourages Banks to continue with her unpopular methods to communicate with the aliens.
Renner is not given much to work with, but makes what he has work. The final moments of the film reveal a twist, which looking retrospectively makes his earlier scenes with Adams more profound.
Also rounding out the cast is Forest Whitaker in the minor role of a military officer who clashes with Banks.
In the context of today’s political landscape, Arrival can best be described as eerie. The way Villeneuve has crafted the scene in which Banks and her students learn about the alien invasion, as their phones go off one by one, echoes back to the world learning about September 11.
Meanwhile, the subsequent scenes of protests and riots in the streets seem to reflect what has been occurring in the US since the recent presidential election.
Throughout the film, Villeneuve highlights the tension among world leaders as they clash over how to deal with a potential threat of an alien attack. These scenes reinforce the catastrophic consequences that can occur if world leaders refuse to communicate, which makes Arrival even more relevant for today’s audience.
Brilliantly written and superbly acted, Arrival will leave you pondering long after the credits roll.