Arrival (2016) Film Review from the 41st Annual Toronto International Film Festival, a movie directed by Denis Villeneuve, and starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark O’Brien, Tzi Ma, Nathaly Thibault, Joe Cobden, Abigail Pniowsky, Julian Casey, Russell Yuen, Pat Kiely, Larry Day, Max Walker, and Frank Fiola.
Arrival, a film based on The Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, is the latest offering from director Denis Villeneuve. After a series of strange spacecrafts land on Earth, the American government recruits linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnely (Jeremy Renner) to understand both how the Heptapod’s faster-than-light spacecrafts work, and why they have decided to make contact with humanity in the first place.
It’s hard to decide where to begin in praising this film. Visually, Arrival is a stunning success. The special effects for the aliens and their spacecrafts are realistic. This is easily the most believable alien film to be released since 1997’s Contact. At times, the film borrows a little too much from Gravity in its characters, tone, and storytelling choices, but the numerous similarities between the two films don’t cast too much of a shadow.
The premise of Arrival is completely original. It was nice to see another Sci-Fi film where, similarly to The Martian, cooperation between nations takes precedence. Arrival doesn’t rely on destruction to be entertaining. Another huge success of this film is the synchronicity between the actual story being told in Arrival and the non-linear structure of its plot. The most important part of Chiang’s The Story of Your Life is that it utilizes a combination of past, present, and future tense to make a greater point about our perception of time. It’s rare that a film based on a book can capture the exact same narrative qualities that make the story successful in both a written and visual form, but Arrival pulls this off perfectly.
Another area where Arrival succeeds is in the breadth of its research and detail. Lousie’s primary job is to learn how to communicate with the Heptapods. Through the process of her development of communication with the aliens, the audience gets an unexpected lesson in the study of Linguistics. While the film doesn’t really go into the technological side of the Heptapod’s spacecrafts, the audience is given just enough information to keep the film’s premise as believable and convincing.
The only real flaw to this movie, and the only reason why it’s not receiving a perfect ten out of ten score, is because there’s a montage section where they use a voice over to speed up the progress of the film. While sometimes, voice over montages can work, there’s a few problems with how this tool is used in Arrival. First of all, a central part of the movie and its structure is that we’re seeing things from Louise’s perspective. The voice over section shifts to the perspective of Ian for the only time in the film.
There either needs to be more of Ian’s perspective included, or the voice over scene needs to be cut out and replaced with regular scenes. This decision might have been a move to cut down on the length of the film to hold the audience’s focus more efficiently, but it comes off as lazy writing. Considering the overall quality of the film, it’s likely that audiences wouldn’t mind sitting through another thirty minutes of engaging scenes and dialogue, instead of a two minute montage.
Even with this small issue in mind, don’t be surprised if Arrival takes home a lot of awards at the Oscars next Spring. Arrival is, by far, one of the best films from TIFF this year. There are other great things about this film. Louise’s narrative arc is bittersweet without being overly sentimental or syrupy. The film’s string-based score is truly moving and suits the film’s tone and visuals perfectly. Adam’s performance as Louise is flawless. You could easily write an entire thesis on why Arrival is an artistic success.
Arrival is scheduled to be released to the public on November 11th, 2016. If there’s any film you see in theaters this year, make it Arrival. Even if you’re not typically a fan of the Sci-Fi genre, make an exception for this film. Don’t pirate it and watch it on your laptop, and don’t wait for it to be released to Netflix or Amazon Prime. Arrival is one of the rare films that truly deserves to be seen in theaters. Don’t miss your chance.
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