OnScreen Review: 'Arrival'

Demi Donnelly

  • OnScreen Film Critic

Adapted from a short story by concept author Ted Chiang, Arrival is a first encounter film with brains. The story on the surface is very simple: twelve unidentified flying objects appear across the globe and humanity scrambles to find out who they are and what they want. After meeting with the aliens, the army, led by Forest Whitaker, recruits a language expert played by Amy Adams and a theoretical physicist played by Jeremy Renner to try and translate the messages being sent. As each nation takes matters into their own hands, Adams and Renner must find a way to figure out what the aliens are trying to communicate before humanity fires the first shot.

In an interview with The Verge director Dennis Villeneuve explained his reasons for taking on the project: “The main thing I was attracted to was this idea of exploring culture shock, exploring communication, exploring this idea of language changing the perception of your reality.” The word communication is key as that is the main theme of the film. The film explores not only how we would potentially struggle to correspond with a foreign species, but also how difficult humans find it to communicate with each other. There is an interesting and deliberately ironic reversal going on as the film progresses. As the characters become better at interacting with the aliens, humanity increasingly isolates itself.

The performances are all spot on. Amy Adams once again demonstrates why she is one of the most sought after actresses in Hollywood right now. Her character’s belief in humanity and language is played with such conviction and heart that as an audience member you can’t help but get frustrated with her, at the world’s lack of perception. The bond she develops with the aliens is also reminiscent of the female and monster relationship, of monster films such as King Kong.

Jeremy Renner has always been a great character actor and has continued to balance his high profile roles in film franchises with smaller more diverse characters. Indeed Yahoo UK reported that Renner is the most successful actor of the Avengers group outside the Marvel films. The franchise films have clearly paid off, as where once he was a lesser-known actor; Renner is now considered one of Hollywood’s top draws. The Marvel series is now the most profitable film franchise in cinema history having expanded its reach way beyond cinema to even include online gaming. Betfair are just one of the more significant sites who have their own officially licensed Avengers game. Popular games such as these have helped bridge Renner and co. to a wider audience. But while in Arrival he is very much the support to Adams, he still is very believable as a theoretical physicist, no more so than his dismay when Adams accidentally wipes away his equations.

Arrival is a very smart film that takes a well-worn concept and finds a new angle to explore. Like all great concept films it doesn’t forget that it is there to entertain and there are enough twists to ensure the audience doesn’t get bogged down in the science of the film. It is a film that was fully deserving of its Best Picture nomination.