Arrival was directed by Denis Villeneuve and is based on the short story “The Story of your Life” by Ted Chiang. Villeneuve is quickly making a name for himself as one of the best up and coming directors in the industry. His first big hit, Prisoners (starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal), came out in 2013 and was a great film about the lengths a father will go to in order to protect his family. The combination of great direction, excellent performances, and an incredible original score by Jóhann Jóhannsson quickly catapulted Villeneuve to the highest tier of directors. The two films that followed his first hit, Enemy (2013) and Sicario (2015), received similar critical acclaim and solidified Villeneuve’s position as one of the best directors of the current era.
While a director’s name will always carry more weight than most of the other creative forces that contribute to a film, it is unfair to say that Villeneuve has come all this way on his own. Each of his films have compelling stories that were created by very talented writers. Also, with the exception of Enemy, which is the only one of these films that I have not seen, Villeneuve has been graced with the privilege to work alongside Roger Deakins AND Jóhann Jóhannsson, which may also be two of the biggest names in their lines of work (cinematography and music, respectively). Villeneuve and Jóhannsson have, without a doubt, etched their names into the book of the greatest director-composer duos of all time.
So, now that we’ve established my admiration and unusually high opinion of Denis Villeneuve and company, let’s actually talk about Arrival:
The story is about a very smart linguist who needs to figure out a way to communicate with mysterious aliens that have have suddenly decided to visit Earth. And that’s all you’re going to get out of me, because without having actually read the written short story by Ted Chiang, I have no doubts that it may possibly be the greatest sci-fi short story written in the past 20 years (it was written in 1999, and it’s a shame that it’s taken this long for a movie adaptation to be made). Arrival is one of the most compelling and emotional films that I have seen in theaters in a long time. I haven’t felt the way I did walking out of that theater since I saw Interstellar in 2014 (the comparison is definitely not a coincidence).
In order to avoid any and all spoilers, I’m going to end this section early. Not to say that the story doesn’t have any flaws, I can think of some unnecessary characters and an odd use of narration, but it’s not enough to take away from the overall quality of the film.
Amy Adams heads the cast as Dr. Louise Banks and gives a great performance. While her character will seem oddly disconnected and unemotional at first, you will begin to understand why as the film progresses.
Jeremy Renner (Ian Donnelly) and Forest Whitaker (Colonel Weber) are the other main characters. While I believe that both are great actors, I don’t think either of them puts on a particularly exemplary performance here.
Like I said earlier, Villeneuve is a great director who has been lucky enough to build a close relationship with Roger Deakins, who is probably the best cinematographer currently working in film. There are tons of beautiful helicopter landscape shots, great use of wide-lenses, and masterful camera movement that Villeneuve has really become known for.
This movie does have spaceships and aliens in it, so CGI is used, but it is used to an extent that is not overbearing and in your face. It is used meticulously and conservatively only in scenes where is it absolutely necessary.
Jóhann Jóhannsson once again produces an incredible original score. His music haunts every scene with ominous and almost creepy sounds. His ability to create tension and emotional responses is almost unmatched in my opinion. While his scores are not as easy to listen to outside of the film as someone like Hans Zimmer, I think Jóhannsson is much better at writing music that is supposed to be listened to in-scene.
There is also a piece that makes an appearance in this film by Max Richter called “On the Nature of Daylight,” which can also be heard in Shutter Island. If ever a piece of music could make me cry on its own, this might be it.
X-Factor: 9.5/10, The Feels
Never have I seen a film that could be so relatable to so many different people in so many different situations. When the end credits started rolling, the only sound that you could hear throughout the theater was the sound of people doing their best not to cry. And yes, in case you were wondering, several tears were shed by yours truly throughout the course of this film.
Overall: 9/10, NEWWWWW RECORD
Well… almost a new record. With a final score of 9, Arrival is now tied with Mad Max Fury Road for the top spot in films that I have reviewed (so far). True, there are still many films to come before January, but this film crushes all the rest of the competition for this year. In our latest podcast episode, we briefly discuss the film La La Land, which Nick and I got the opportunity to see early at the Austin Film Festival. La La Land is being hyped up as the best film of the year and of the decade by a lot of critics and big industry names. That being said, I still think Arrival comes out on top in a head-to-head comparison. Go and see it as soon as you get the chance.