Movie Review: ‘Arrival’

Director: Denise Villeneuve

Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Plot: Dr. Louise Banks does teachers linguistics and is haunted by memories of her deceased daughter. When 12 giant saucer-shaped craft appear across the globe she is recruited by the military to bridge the communication barrier with the creatures on board.

Review: Right off the bat audiences were put in mind of the 1997 Zemeckis film Contact, a generally smart sci-fi drama that was forever associated with an unsatisfying finale. The trailer for Arrival was equally vague in its depiction of the story and the creatures involved. Surprisingly it trots the aliens out early in the second act and the interaction with them forms the backbone of the narrative. The removal of this mystery shifts the attention onto the thematic aspects of the film.


What this film is really about is the science of language and how it influences our way of thinking. The UFOs land in 12 different parts of the world, and each culture seeks to communicate with the visitors in their own way. We follow Banks (Adams) in her attempts to teach the aliens English and gain an understanding of their own visual language. It’s truly engaging to watch this process and the unwinding of the alien language, and it’s a topic that rarely gets covered in pop culture. What would have been more interesting would have been more insight into how other countries have made progress in their own languages. This would have taken away from the sense of distrust between countries that propels the story, but the audience is left curious.

Adams and Renner carry the film admirably, having an electric chemistry and both being talented performers. With so much of the plot being delivered via their exposition it the movies would’ve lived or died on their delivery of the material. Thankfully this is a strong point in both their careers as much of the insight into the characters is implied through their performances, leaving most of their dialogue free to talk about alien languages.


Saying any more about the story would be giving things away, but we can say this is a more about the science than the fiction. Like Moon and The Andromeda Strain it keeps the story largely contained to focus on the concepts rather than…’Hollywooding’ it up. There are some real thought-provoking aspects to the ideas being discussed, even if we would like some to be discussed in more detail rather than spend ten extra minutes piling sticky sugar on the happy ending.

Director Villeneuve is slated to work on the upcoming Blade Runner film. We’ll interested in seeing what he’s got for us.

Rating: EIGHT out of TEN