Let’s all take a moment to appreciate the amazing run director Denis Villeneuve is on. He showed the world that Jake Gyllenhaal can go dark with Prisoners and Enemy, Sicario was one of the best films of 2015 and next year, Villeneuve has the long-awaited Blade Runner sequel hitting theaters. For now, we’ll have to make do with what’s the best film of 2016 – to this point – Arrival.
Amy Adams stars as Dr. Louise Banks, a prominent linguist recruited by the military to figure out how to communicate with aliens that have landed on Earth and discover their intentions. Are they friendly? Evil? Binging the latest season of Supernatural? It’s up to her and Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to find out before other parts of the world declare war on the extraterrestrials. To say more about the plot ruins the fun, but needless to say, there’s a lot more to Arrival than Amy Adams learning how to talk to aliens.
Bless Amy Adams. Spending a good chunk of the film talking to computer-generated aliens through glass would’ve been so, so boring in the hands of a lesser talent. And by lesser talent, I mean someone who hasn’t been nominated five times in acting for an Academy Award. Seriously, Adams has been nominated five times, for her work in Junebug, Doubt, The Fighter, The Master and American Hustle. Amazing. Arrival will likely mark Oscar nomination No. 6.
Arrival is a rarity in today’s blockbuster-driven studio system. Heady, thoughtful sci-fi like this don’t often get bankrolled anymore. Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar may have been the last, but it was only made because Nolan made himself a household name with the Dark Knight trilogy. Arrival doesn’t have that built in advantage. It’s a realistic take on the alien invasion genre; a bold, risky film more akin to something like 2001: A Space Odyssey than a sci-fi action spectacle like Star Wars.
Make no mistake, Arrival is light on action. There’s some sprinkled throughout, but director Villeneuve is more interested in Banks’s efforts to communicate with the aliens. Villeneuve is a stylish but deliberate director, using long, engrossing takes to draw the audience in. The film isn’t boring by any stretch, but the pacing may turn some off. And that’s okay. Independence Day: Resurgence this is not.
Arrival is the best sort of science fiction. Thoughtful, trippy, subverting expectations whenever possible, Arrival is one of the best sci-fi films in recent memory and solidifies Denis Villeneuve’s place as one of the best filmmakers working today.