Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Movie Review: ARRIVAL

Professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is one of the most brilliant linguists in the world. When aliens start appearing on the Earth in twelve random places she is tasked by the US Government to enter start communicating with them and eventually interpret their language.

Arrival is one of the best motion pictures of recent times and continues to strike on the trend of very good and scientifically inspired sci-fi films we have had in recent times with GravityInterstellar, and The Martian. This films adds to that very good pantheon of modern Sci-Fi and it just might be one of the best we've had yet.

Director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Bradford Young have been quoted saying that the look and feel they wanted to achieve for this film was a "dirty Sci-Fi." I think the end result is a triumph for what they set out to do. This film has a unique aesthetic to it, and a brilliant one at that. The choices of editing and photography are incredibly coherent to the structure of the story. There is a whole visual language that is carefully crafted around the emotional and story beats of the film. It carries the audience through the picture and guides emotion masterfully and the best part is that is doesn't call attention to itself.

The array of perfect choices that Villeneuve made here is more and more stunning the more I think about it. The visual grammar he establishes is pure genius. The choice to shoot almost always on the ground, the eye level shot looking up to introduce set-pieces, the use of shallow focus to reflect a key element of the plot, there are a slew of stylistic choices that are carried out with pitch perfect execution by Young and combine in making an almost flawless visual piece that is as beautiful as it is emotionally charged. There is a key distinction from the start to let the audience follow and experience only one clear point of view and that makes for another incredible decision that supports the story and the character development magnificently.

After Prisoners and Sicario and now this we might just be experiencing the dawn of a new 'master of suspense.' That is how I would define Villenueve at the moment. His pictures are a masterclass in the building of tension and Arrival is the best example of that yet. Right from the beginning I always felt a sense of urgency to the story. With small touches and attention to details in every shot, he manages to build and build anxiety on the viewer. There is always this overlying sense of danger that manages to be established early on and never leave. Once again this all just a complex puzzle of stylistic choices in editing and photography that manages to pay off to incredible results. Every choice seems to be the right one. Every shot has an aim to say something.

Yet, the suspense is supported by fantastic art direction, production design. From the military base camp, which has a clear structure and organization, to the Alien ships, everything has been thought out extensively and presented to the audience clearly. Moreover, the weight that is conveyed to the aliens and the ships is vital to the success of the film. They feel alive and present. There was never a false beat with them and their presence loomed all over the film. The sound design and music are also brilliant, both technically faultless and artistically inspired, bringing to life the emotion of the film just as beautifully as the rest of the departments.

The film is also incredibly smart. It trusts the audience and manages to open up a conversation that is as complex and multifaceted as it is fascinating and absorbing. This film stays with you, it is one of those pictures that affected me physically in the theater and after it. That is probably due to how much emotion and theme are vitally interconnected to plot and content. Every element the film needs for it to work is set-up early on, the audience is constantly entrusted with information and the film climaxes in a resolution that is as unpredictable as it is beautiful and moving and it never screams at you what is going on, thanks to a brilliant set-up you manage to think about what happens, slowly absorb it as the film is playing.

Amy Adams has probably had one of the best series of performances an actress could have ever asked for. After Nocturnal Animals she gives us another portrait of character that is bewildering. Her work is constantly challenging and, without spoiling everything she handles, she showcases the differences in her character with a cunning ability. Jeremy Renner probably deserves the most overlooked performance of the year award. He is on the same level as Adams here and plays his quirky, sympathetic character with genuine depth and gives the audience a secondary lead instead of just a throw away supporting character that he might have been.

I think that there are a couple of faults the film has, but honestly I am still uncertain about them and have (and desperately want) to see the film a second time to see if some details passed over me. Arrival is a engrossing experience of emotion, spectacle and intelligence, a deeply moving picture that has me still thinking and one of which's images and concepts won't leave my head anytime soon.

James' Score: 9/10 

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