ARRIVAL (9.5 out of 10) Directed by Denis Villeneuve; Written by Eric Heisserer; Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker; Running time 116 min; Rated PG-13 for "brief strong language"; In wide release November 11, 2016.
This movie will leave you speechless. And yet, at the same time, looking for people to talk to about it. If you're looking for smart, heady science fiction that offers an unflinching look at humanity while exploring the essence of space, time, cosality, love, relationships, language and communication, your perfect film has arrived.
Direct Denis Villeneuve brings his same deliberate pacing and tension that he used in Sicario and Prisoners to deliver this new take on an old trope: aliens appear. And how humanity reacts to their presence is the real story.
This truly is one of those films that the less you know, the better it is, but just to give a tiny inkling of what this is about, as stated above, aliens appear. Their 12 ships land across the globe and are doing nothing. So the military hires a brilliant linguist (Amy Adams) and a theoretical physicist (Jeremy Renner) to try to communicate with them. And in trying to unlock their language, we learn so much more.
Just know that the film is beautiful and intense. It's also going to expect a lot out of you. You're going to have to pay attention and think. It is ponderous and weighty. You may have to see this a few times to pick up everything.
The visuals and style of this movie are expertly crafted as well. Villanueve knows how to play with darkness, light, shadows and obscurity, and there is a definite payoff as things are revealed slowly. But rather than it feeling like you're being teased, you're more impressed by the sense of wonder. Don't worry-- this isn't Contact where you never get to actually see the aliens. You, in fact, get a really good look at them at least a third into the film. Because this isn't about what the aliens look like. It's about unlocking the secret of why they're here in the first place.
And what unfolds is not a story about aliens-- it's about us. It's about humanity, how we deal with each other, how we work together (or don't work together). As hard of a mental slog as the film is, the message is worth it.
And that message may be so much more important now than ever before. It might have been very important earlier this week. But now given the events of this week, and what we're facing in the years and months ahead, it matters even more so.
See this movie. If you're not quite prepared to be challenged and provoked and are looking for some lighter fare, Doctor Strange is an acceptable substitute. Maybe Midnight Special. But really nothing else is.
9.5 out of 10