Arrival (2016) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Arrival Movie

Arrival (2016)

Directed by Denis Villeneuve • Written by Eric Heisserer

With Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker

There’s a mournful nature to much of Denis Villeneuve’s work, which is forefront in the tone of Arrival, an intelligent science-fiction drama-thriller based on the short story, Story of Your Life by Ted Chaing. Adapted by screenwriter Eric Heisserer, the film stars Amy Adams as Louise Banks, a linguistics egghead called upon to help establish lines of communication with a mysterious alien spacecraft, one of twelve that have appeared in various locations around the globe.

The antithesis of b-movie entertainment like Independence Day, Villeneuve’s film is a complex, thought-provoking exploration of ideas around our understanding of communication. I have deep reservoirs of respect for movies that invite the audience to be challenged and involved on a higher level than the movie itself; Kubrick’s 2001, Nolan’s Interstellar – cinematic gifts that keep giving, no matter how many times we see them. Arrival is such a film, one in which breathtaking spectacle is second to the strength of the stimulating ideas that course through its veins.

As she did so strikingly in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, Amy Adams captures an acute sense of longing, fighting an inner turmoil that regularly interrupts her daily life. It’s a graceful performance of bottled anguish that is mirrored by the stern, grey tones of the overall piece, giving the film a deep breath of human intimacy, as it alternates and intersperses things that are both grounded and grandiose. She’s joined by an uncommonly kindly Jeremy Renner, playing a theoretical physicist, working alongside her to unravel the alien language.

While rich with existential ambition, this is a story that simultaneously asks its audience to think inwardly. The global reaction to the arrival of aliens is another fascinating dimesion, working as a fulcrum for much of the inherent tension brought about by widespread panic and our natural fear of the unknown.

The initial sight of the monolithic alien craft hovering motionless over the landscape is an awe-inspiring one, yet also one that mixes feelings of dread and intrigue, surrounded by tanks, jets and military hardware.  Jóhann Jóhannsson’s suggestive score deepens the mood, cleverly attuning itself as a haunting representation of a muffled alien language.

While there’s a coldness to the overall experience, don’t let yourself hold that against it. Arrival isn’t the kind of blockbuster entertainment that it was mis-marketed as, it’s much more than that – a deft film of subliminal hope and positivity, mounted on a multiplex canvas that reminds us how meaningful a trip to the cinema can be. Find a like-minded friend, and it’s one that begs to be discussed and explored over drinks, long after hours.


About garethrhodes

Full-time lover of all things creative.
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26 Responses to Arrival (2016) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

  1. Martin: Through the Silver Screen says:

    Great review Gareth! Completely agree with every word, utterly brilliant film and one of my favourites of 2016!!

  2. T. Martin says:

    This would have been my choice for Best Picture (then again, the only other nominee I saw was La La Land)

    • garethrhodes says:

      I’m behind on the films of 2016 too. I’m always on catch-up. Arrival has been one of the best I’ve seen from last year’s releases. Totally mis-sold as a frenzied thriller, though.

  3. Writergurlny says:

    Excellent movie, one of my favorite from 2016. It’s too bad that Amy Adams did not get an Oscar nomination, she deserved it.

  4. Natasha says:

    I only recently saw Sicario, and that was enough to make me fall in-love with Denis Villeneuve. I really want to see this as well – He obviously created another thought provoking and intelligent film. I also really want to see why people are so mad that Amy Adams was overlooked at the Oscars. Great review!

    • garethrhodes says:

      Hi Natasha, you’re in for a treat. I had the same reaction to Sicario, though I watched umpteen films in the space of one week and never got a review out. Denis (I’ve heard you pronounce it without the s) is one of the most exciting talents working today. There’s also ‘Enemy’ – another outstanding film. Check that out.

  5. Jason says:

    Good review. I was surprised how much I liked Arrival (I really didn’t expect much of this time at first), but it was really good. Plus, Adams was excellent in the film.

  6. Your last paragraph perfectly captures this film. This is such a good film, but tough to market – it’s a film about an alien invasion that isn’t large-scale or packed with CGI effects. But it’s lovely and melancholy and thought-provoking. Well worth checking out.

    • garethrhodes says:

      Thank you, that’s very kind. You’re right about it being a marketing migraine…I think they tried to sell it as a tense thriller, but it isn’t that movie…for the most part.

  7. I said on the Hell or High Water review that I thought it was the BEST film but not my favorite of 2016, and that is because THIS one was my favorite of 2016. I’m still reeling from it MONTHS later, that’s how good it was.

    • garethrhodes says:

      Arrival is layered with such a wealth of ideas and concepts, that as someone who finds himself daydreaming most times of the day, it’s hard not to see it as anything less than perfect.

  8. Chris Evans says:

    Some wonderfully thoughtful insights on Arrival from yourself Gareth! I saw it on release last November but didn’t get around to reviewing it myself (I have the blu-ray on pre-order though!), I’m glad you metnioned 2001 and Interstellar – Arrival evokes the eerie, haunting qualities of those works and Amy Adams was sorely overlooked by the Oscars. Jeremy Renner was pretty good too, somewhat different from the usual action hero roles.

    It’s just a shame that an awful lot of people didn’t “get” Arrival (and you’re right, it was probably mis-marketed), I love popcorn blockbusters but there should always be a place for intelligent, thought provoking genre films like this that linger in the mind long after the credits roll.

    • garethrhodes says:

      It’s a must for the blu-ray shelf Chris. Thank you for reading and contributing so eloquently as always. Do you think you’ll write a review once you’ve had the opportunity to rewatch it? I’m going to buy it too – I hope there’s a commentary. What a great point about the haunting quality of 2001 and Interstellar…I’d say Prometheus has some of that too. Amy Adams is fantastic. She’s capable of blowing off the movie star thing to give very earnest, natural performances. Did you see Nocturnal Animals? She was equally good in that.

      • Chris Evans says:

        I’m planning to put together a review once I’ve rewatched it, hope I can do it justice. I haven’t seen Nocturnal Animals but heard a lot of positive things about it. Amy Adams is great in everything she does and she’s certainly come a long way from that small role she had in a couple of episodes of the Office (U.S.).

  9. vinnieh says:

    I loved this movie so much. It had a heart and intelligence that sucked me in. Plus Amy Adams was sublimely soulful and graceful in the lead, anchoring the emotional weight of the film.

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