Arrival is unlike any science fiction film you have seen. It builds like a slow boil into a deeply cerebral, emotionally expansive journey. Director Denis Villenueve removes the gawk factor. He has essentially made the anti-Independence Day. There are no lasers in space, dogfights with alien ships, or rah rah speeches to gin up troops for attack. What replaces the bells and whistles is pure fascination. We see events solely from the protagonist perspective. It is a beguiling mystery that leaves much room for discussion.
Amy Adams stars as Dr. Louise Banks, a highly-regarded linguistics professor with a tragic past. She is called upon by the U.S. government to spearhead contact with a bizarre alien vessel in Montana; one of twelve oval-shaped ships to appear randomly in different countries. Along with a brilliant scientist (Jeremy Renner), Banks takes innovative steps to communicate. Her progress is hampered by worldwide panic and fearful militaries. Are these aliens peaceful or dangerous? Why are they here? Questions she must answer before humanity falls prey to its base instinct for violence.
Arrival is not a ten pages and a bang script. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer does an excellent job with the measured reveal. Most films of this subject matter thrust you into the plot to propel action. This is not the case here whatsoever. A pensive approach leads to discovery. Characters face a great unknown with all the human frailties one could expect from such a situation. Then as progress is made, different reactions emerge. Where some see hope and innovation, others see danger and malevolence. The Arrival is a truthful and lucid exploration of man's psyche.
Amy Adams is outstanding. The entire film rests on her shoulders. There isn't much that takes place outside of her character's purview. She behaves realistically to the situation presented, but has poise and elegance. Villenueve has faith in her expressions. He shoots her close-up, so we can see the emotional rollercoaster her character faces. Adams breathes realism into Louise Banks. It's a bravura performance that may be award worthy.
Action junkies looking for a sci-fi fix need to put their thinking caps on. You will be bored to tears if you expect an alien battle royale. There's nothing wrong with that approach, but this is not that kind of movie or story. Coming from Paramount Pictures, Arrival will probably take multiple viewings to digest. It is an artistic, thoughtful, and well-acted take on a common genre. I can't imagine children having the patience to sit through this film. But adults who appreciate quality filmmaking are in for a treat.