Arrival crept up on us almost unnoticed. I think the first time I heard about it was watching the trailers before seeing Doctor Strange last week. It looked interesting, but not really enough to get excited about. With today being today, I needed something to get out of the house and take my mind off various things. I’ve got into the habit of watching movies early in the morning, a throwback from when I reviewed movies for the BBC many years ago – press screenings were always finished before the lunchtime showings and it just feels wrong to see movies after midday now. But I digress.
Miss Peregrine – which I’ve still not managed to see – was on a bit too late, so the only real option was to see Arrival. What the hell.
It started off badly and for a moment, I thought we were in the wrong cinema. The opening sequence seemed to be trying to do an “Up” with its first ten minutes. It’s only later that the relevance of the scene becomes clear. It’s not what it appears to be.
In short, the movie concerns the arrival of twelve ships at various points around the globe and the attempts to communicate and decode what the aliens want and what they are saying. That’s pretty much it, it’s a very slight story. What makes it interesting is the miscommunication, the global panic and the fact that the flashbacks to the first scene – and the story they tell – are not what they appear to be.
Amy Adams as Louise puts in a simply stunning performance as a woman who is haunted by something she can’t quite put her finger on. She’s called upon by the US Government – in the shape of Forest Whittaker – to help translate the alien voices. Aided by Jeremy Renner as Ian, a supposed theoretical physicist who oddly does very little except explain what negative space in terms of art is, the establish trust between the humans and the aliens.
As the narrative progresses and the two parties learn to communicate, something ‘other’ is happening and you might miss it until one key phrase is spoken. Suddenly everything drops into place and the deftness of the storytelling becomes clear. It’s not a M. Night Shyamalan style ‘twist’. It’s been in your face the whole time and it’s rather beautiful.
The scenes with the aliens reminded me a bit of a benign version of ‘Children of Earth’ and were very creepy and effective. Naturally, as they were tentacled, I was rooting for the aliens, but it turns out that rooting for one team over the other wasn’t the point at all and that is what made the movie such a treat.
Arrival isn’t a slam bang Hollywood extravaganza. It’s a big story in a global setting, but a very intimate film about a woman who sees what her future holds and knows that the choices she makes have – in a very real sense – already been made. It’s all to do with the power of words, the power of language and the power of understanding.
There were a couple of misfires, some scenes were set up beautifully and then failed to fulfil their promise; others, though stunning to look at, went on a bit too long especially in the second act. There’s only so long that you can look at a tank of mist before it starts looking like someone is taking the piss. At times, it can feel a little sterile, but Adams quietly emotional performance tempers that very well. There was a scene involving a fairly perfunctory explosion perpetrated by a character that we’d only seen twice and didn’t even have a name. Or voice. Essentially, there’s an editing issue here, but it doesn’t actually detract from the movie that much. There is more than enough to see and ponder.
I think the word ‘ponder’ is key here. Not as in ‘ponderous’ – although once or twice it did sniff the boundaries – but it’s a movie that demands that you think, mulls things over and engage; not just sit back a let a pop-corn fuelled juggernaut jack knife into your medial fore brain.
Bloody hell. A movie that doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator? Whatever next!
This is a great science fiction movie. Not the Star Wars/space fantasy whizz bang boys own stuff, but with a similar vibe to the likes of Interstellar, Children of Men, Gravity, The Martian even my much beloved “Contact”. Intimate tales told on a global canvass.
And Amy Adams owns it!