After spending about 20 minutes trying to figure out how to start this movie review, I'm realizing how difficult it will be to write about Arrival without delving into spoiler territory. There are all sorts of parallels I would love to make about how timely this movie's release is, and certain elements of the story... but I just can't. Even though I want to. Quite badly. The spoiler-free version of this rambling opening paragraph is this: Arrival is the movie we all need to come out right now, not to mention a surefire Best Picture contender.
The whip-smart folks at Paramount certainly knew what they were doing this past June, when they set the November 11 release date, which they knew would fall just days after what was shaping up to be the most divisive Presidential election ever. I watched Arrival on Wednesday, the day after the Election, and while this is not a political movie by any means, it shows the true possibilities of not just what a united country can achieve, but what a united world can overcome. It's a stunning achievement, both from a visual standpoint, thanks to director Denis Villeneuve's masterful work, and a narrative perspective, offering a sublime, intoxicating blend of sci-fi thrills and a cerebral story that dares and challenges it's audience, instead of spoon-feeding them the same old explosive drivel.
In Arrival, the world has become fascinated by the sudden arrival of 12 alien vessels that have mysteriously parked over random, non-metropolis locations throughout the Earth. These vessels, which resemble half of a really large oval, have lead the governments for each of these 12 countries working together to find the answer to one simple question: "What is your purpose on Earth?" To that end, the American's have recruited Louise Banks (Amy Adams), an expert linguist who is beckoned to translate the communications coming from the alien craft that has made its new home hovering over Montana.
Louise teams up with theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), who both manage to formulate a language that enables them to communicate with these aliens... and that's probably all I should tell you. I will say that one of this movie's biggest heroes is actually screenwriter Eric Heisserer, who is putting together one hell of a year after writing the fascinating and terrifying script for the low-budget horror hit Lights Out. His work here is nothing short of masterful, for a number of reasons, which I hope results in his first Oscar nomination.
Upon leaving the theater, I overheard a man tell his friend that Arrival is what Interstellar should have been, and while I didn't overhear his entire conversation, I think this person has a good point. While Interstellar has gotten so much deserved acclaim for the parts of the movie that work, it's not exactly the easiest movie to follow. For a movie that deals with deciphering and communicating with an alien language, Heisserer does a phenomenal job at presenting complex themes, not to mention large chunks of dialogue, that audiences can recognize and follow, while, at the same time, not talking down to said audience. I unfortunately haven't had the chance to read Ted Chiang's short story that this amazing film is based on, before watching the film, but I have every intention of rectifying that as soon as possible.
Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner's work is so subdued and methodical that I'm almost afraid they won't warrant much awards season consideration, even though they should. You won't find Amy Adams or Jeremy Renner engaging in any big, over-the-top moments that have become commonplace in practically every action/sci-fi trailer these days. These explosions and big spectacle moments seem to be used in most of these blockbuster movies, almost as a placeholder to stretch out the paper-thin story as much as they can. These moments aren't needed in Arrival because the story itself, these incredibly crafted characters and indelible performances, are enough to blow your mind, without the need of any pyrotechnic assistance.