Denis Villeneuve’s latest film Arrival is a gorgeous and lovingly photographed piece of cinema. It is centrally concerned with the struggle of Amy Adams’ and Jeremy Renner’s characters to decode the language of an alien race that has touched down at twelve locations across the globe.
Whilst the central plot does keep the action moving along at an acceptably palatable pace, where the film really shines is in the emotional subplot for Amy Adams. I won’t spoil anything here, as it goes against my values to spoil a film on day 1, but the confusing nature of the subplot matches the overall tone and meaning of the story beautifully. It keeps you hooked right from the opening scene all the way through and never threatens to overwhelm to action. This balance is very typical of Villeneuve – who has really earned his stripes in Hollywood with three critical hits prior to this film.
Adams and Renner manage to sell their parts more than convincingly, and there is a very real sense of camaraderie between them on screen which allows the film to really push their relationship into a believable space. The supporting cast also do a fine job, notably Forest Whitaker pulls of a fine turn as Colonel Webber, strong and convinced of his own place within the world so as not to steal too much of the spotlight.
The visual aspects of this film are truly breathtaking, a number of shots had me wishing I was listening to a director’s commentary already for how amazingly they had been framed and executed. Certainly they more than justify the $47 Million budget that the film received. The camerawork to achieve a number of the more practically executed special effects is fantastic and really sells the sense of scope and gravity within key scenes. With the exception of one, forgivable, scene the CGI is also top notch.
The Johann Johannsson score is wonderfully understated and certainly supports the deeply emotional moments of the film with charm and subtlety.
All of this being said….. I have one major complaint to level at the film – the last 10 minutes of screen time are an absolute waste.
Villeneuve has previously delighted audiences with baffling films that require multiple takes to understand fully, Think 2013’s Enemy, so it struck me full across the face that the ending for Arrival seems so needlessly explanatory. As I have previously said the emotional heart of the story is it’s most successful aspect and despite delivering an absolutely amazing ‘gut punch’ moment that would have served as an amazing exit point for the film, leaving it intentionally unresolved, Villeneuve adds a 10 minute tail to proceedings. Whilst this tail is still, gorgeous, deeply affecting and lovely it dampens the effect of the real emotional high water mark of the film dramatically. It would not surprise me at all to find out that this ending was studio mandated – once again bearing in mind Enemy.
Overall though; Arrival is thoroughly worth the price of admission and gets a solid 1 thumb up from me.