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Movie Review | Arrival

The aliens arrive in Arrival

Movie summary: A linguist is recruited by the military to communicate with alien lifeforms after twelve mysterious spacecrafts land around the world. (IMDb)

Arrival is a movie that, while you giving you the answers to any questions you might have about the plot, does stop to explain things. It assumes that the viewer is intelligent and can follow what's going on without needing the characters to spell it out for you.

Except they do. I cannot stress enough that this movie gives you all the information you need to understand it and it's entirely dependent on the audience to take in everything they're told - this really isn't the kind of film you can just 'switch off' and relax while watching.

Then again, you don't want to go too far the other way and try to over-analyse it, especially with the story being told in a non-linear fashion. It's very difficult to describe the ideal 'mentality' to watch this film with, because you need to both take in what the film is telling you, but also ask why it's giving you that information.

I'll be honest and admit that it did take until quite a way into the movie for it to really click with me when I first watched, but when it finally registered with me what the film was doing, it took everything to an entirely new level leading up to that bittersweet ending.

It doesn't help that Arrival is similar to Inception in that it's hard to really talk about what the film is trying to do without spoiling the story. Hell, saying almost anything about it is a potential spoiler thanks to the nature of the story being told.

I think the simplest way to describe how events unfold without simply reciting the plot is to say that we are put into the same position as Amy Adams' character, Louise. We're dropped into an overwhelming situation and given only morsels of information to try and piece it all together.

Hopefully, the audience's understanding of the movie's message will mirror Louise's understanding of the aliens' message and you'll understand what's happening to her at the same pace as she does. You'll also understand why she makes the choice she does despite knowing how it will end.

All of that might make it sound too complex for most and I'll be the first to admit that it will alienate audiences who accept what appears to be the initial premise and expect the film to unfold in a similar manner to those expectations. The key word there is 'initial', because Arrival isn't just about one thing.

I do want to credit Amy Adams for a wonderful performance as Louise, because that role will make or break the film for most people. Personally, I think Adams should've been showered with awards for her work here and I think it's the best performance she's ever given.

Louise (Amy Adams) tries to communicate with the Heptapods in Arrival

As I said, her journey through the events of the story will probably mirror a lot of people watching and she really is the perfect avatar for us as she struggles to make sense of what is happening just as much as we do. But Louise is never a cipher for us to project ourselves onto, she is a fully developed character with some very human flaws that Adams conveys wonderfully.

The rest of the cast are all good at what they do here too, including Jeremy Renner as Ian, the scientist working with Louise to understand the aliens, and Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber, who is in charge of everything. Both men give fantastic performances, but they're both just blown away by Adams' incredible work.

Arrival looks and sounds incredible too, with some gorgeous cinematography (look at the image at the top of this post - those clouds aren't CGI) and excellent sound design that really allows you to accept the world-changing event that this is despite the limited number of locations.

I also want to praise the design of the aliens, nicknamed Abbott and Costello, for looking genuinely alien and communicating in a manner that is equally alien and yet entirely logical thanks to how their species perceives the flow of time.

And, just as a bit of geeky admiration, I also want to say how impressed I am that their don't appear to be any paradoxes caused by the non-linear story-telling and time-warping perception changes that we see - every time I thought I'd found something wrong, a little more thought cleared it up.

It is amazingly well-written by Eric Heisserer, adapting Ted Chiang's Story of Your Life for the big screen. Part of the credit obviously has to go to Chiang for the source material, but to make this movie not only work, but also make sense in less than a two hour running time is just astonishing

Arrival isn't a movie for everyone with how it deals with linguistics, time and how our perceptions of both can develop rather than being constants that remain unchanged. It also features the best performance I've ever seen Amy Adams' give and am still astonished that she didn't win more awards for her work here.



Why a 10/10? Arrival is one of those movies that is just so well made that I can't find anything to criticise it for and simply can't justify giving it anything less. Denis Villenueve made another of my favourite modern science-fiction films with Blade Runner 2049, and this is just as good.

It looks phenomenal, it sounds incredible, Amy Adams is literally perfect in the lead role, the supporting cast are all exactly what you would want them and their characters to be, the script is fantastic - it's a smart, funny, emotional film that I simply can't praise enough.

Yes, some may find the non-linear story-telling confusing or they may feel that the movie was slow in getting where it was going, but I didn't feel that way at all. I eagerly took in everything Arrival was saying and just beat the movie to the punch when it fully revealed what was happening.

That might seem like an odd thing to praise a movie for, but Arrival made that piecing together of information so satisfying. Both you and Louise are given all the details you need to put it all together and it was an almost transcendental experience when I managed to do so.

Watching Arrival multiple times at home simply confirmed to me how incredible this film is and how well-written it was - I'm not going to say that a second viewing is mandatory, but it did improve my opinion of the movie immensely and i would thoroughly recommend watching Arrival at least twice just to appreciate how amazing it is.

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