Friday, November 11, 2016

Movie Review: ARRIVAL

Welcome back to this mini-series of reviews of the feature films* of revered filmmaker Denis Villeneuve with his latest film Arrival. Arrival is a science-fiction film that follows the story of a linguist who is recruited by the military following the arrival of alien spacecraft around the world to try and learn to communicate with them and find out why they are here. It is a deeply cerebral science-fiction story and not action packed as one might expect. The film is obviously directed by Denis Villeneuve and stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker.

I came into this film with very high expectation given its widespread critical acclaim and the track record of Villeneuve as a director. This film is largely quite good but didn’t live up to the standard I wanted it to. From a positive perspective, this film is really smart. It cleverly weaves a highly cerebral story together and has a wonderful slow burn that makes it feel real and gets you invested in the story. Moreover, the production design of this film is brilliantly minimalist and well designed to play into this intelligent science fiction storyline generally.

I also thought that the performance of Amy Adams was particularly excellent. She has a complicated emotional arc, in addition to her kind of detective arc, that makes her storyline generally really interesting. She also brings subtlety to it that makes it even more engaging. Though I don’t think she will be an awards nominee for this performance, she could very well be. It is that good.

The final positive I would like to mention is how stunning this film is photographed. Bradford Young did the cinematography on this film and did it ever look good. He’s no Roger Deakins, but he did great shooting in different lighting situations and made everything look and feel really grand and interesting when appropriate, and also really alien in situations where that made sense as well. There is a lot of great visual story telling in this film that makes it what it is and that is in no small part due to the achievements in the cinematography.

As I mentioned from the top, I was let down by this film. I had very high expectations going in and the quality level this film sets up through the early portions of this film only increased or justified that expectation level during the movie. Unfortunately, the conclusion really bothered me. I won’t say what specifically to avoid spoilers but the last 10 minutes or so of the movie should not have been there. I felt it over-explained a point that didn’t need it and was more powerful without.

I also found that the characters that weren’t Amy Adams’ character were one note or not needed. Forest Whitaker was fine with what he was given to do, but it wasn’t enough to make me invested in his character. Jeremy Renner was the more disappointing figure in the film though as he is almost a co-lead and I just couldn’t help but feel his character was pointless. After some initial events his character’s function almost entirely disappears except to be used as a plot device. With such a talented actor and generally well written screenplay there was so much they could have easily done to make me more invested in his character.

Overall, I found Arrival to be a very high quality science fiction film with a great performance by Amy Adams and some insanely cool art and production design. That said, I think the story doesn’t work quite as well as it ought to and the characters not portrayed by Amy Adams are hugely underserved. Definitely worth a look though!

Ryan’s Score: 8/10

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* This series of reviews will include all of Villeneuve’s features except the 2000 film Malestrom due to it being highly difficult to obtain prior to the start of this series.

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