Denis Villeneuve makes movies with layers. Like his previous films ’Incendies’, ‘Prisoners’ and ‘Sicario’, Villeneuve manages to combine depth with action in a way that never lets you go nor speeds the plot to its conclusion. In this respect ’Arrival’ is another welcome addition to his burgeoning collection of well thought-out dramas.

In ‘Arrival’s’ opening scenes, we discover that twelve mysterious space craft have suddenly arrived in concert around the world. Silent and motionless, their presence alone invokes a fear and paranoia that must be contained by understanding. In to this uncertainty the US army recruits Amy Adams’s character Louise Banks. As a renowned linguistics professor, it will be her job to try and communicate with earth’s new visitors.

’Arrival’ takes itself very seriously. There are no bug-eyed monsters or ray guns here.

Echoing the tone of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’, ‘Arrival’ takes itself very seriously. There are no bug-eyed monsters or ray guns here. ‘Arrival’ is a sober, adult drama about what would realistically happen in a first contact situation. In this respect ‘Arrival’ plays like a drama not a science fiction movie. Its characters are wholly grounded in their skill sets and responsibilities, and yet Villeneuve manages to shine a light on their inner feelings as they try to discover those of their arrivals.

‘Arrrival’ manages to do that impossible feat of maintaining credibility throughout and it does it so in its use of sound and scale. By using toned-down visuals it manages to convey the enormity of the moment whilst not becoming overblown or operatic. And when Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score and soundtrack arrives, it gives voice to the voiceless in amazing mixture of bass frequencies and harmonics. By working in concert with ‘Arrival’s’ deft script and dialogue, each facet mirrors each other by blending information and humour into a highly satisfying, cinematic whole.

Joining Amy Adams in ‘Arrival’, both Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker are superb in their supporting roles. By never overshadowing the personal drama of its characters, ‘Arrival’ has as much to say about politics as it does space travel – but it does so quietly. Like the recent the films of Terence Malick, ‘Arrival’ is as concerned about its characters’ inner journeys as it is their outer ones and it manages to convey this with a rare lightness of touch which feeds its credibility from start to finish.

In the end ’Arrival’ is that rarest of visitors. It’s a movie that comes without any real warning and yet leaves you breathless. Having stood up to repeated viewings, it’s safe to say that ‘Arrival’s’ scale and layered secrets will reward you more each time you watch it.

Mark Esper


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