What’s there to like?
Arrival is a good ol’ fashioned thought-experiment style sci-fi story. One of those that begins by asking what if? and playing things out. In this case, the what-if is about aliens visiting the Earth–with all the confusion, uncertainty, and fear that would entail–and humanity’s struggle to communicate with them. Always nice to have some thought provoked.
For those of us who love language, this is a wet dream. Who knew a linguist could save the world? Don’t you dare tell me my liberal arts degree won’t come in handy!
The performances are good: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker all breathe life into their characters and represent their sometimes conflicting, sometimes converging interests. Adams and Renner–Louise and Ian–have solid chemistry. Renner in particular I found riveting–he subtly surprised me with some of this choices, showing some range compared to his other work.
Director Denis Villaneuve and writer Eric Heisserer construct a nice story, with a twinge of horror-like tension, and an earned payoff that’s set up nicely.
What’s not to like?
Two things, mainly. Although I’ll tip my cap to the buildup to the plot’s reveal, there’s a mystical component to how things play out. I’m not opposed to that kind of payoff in principle, but it’s a delicate needle to thread, and this one doesn’t satisfy my need for coherence, even if I’m trying to be generous to forces we don’t understand.
The other thing is that Ian, though played ably by Renner, is an inconsistent and contradictory character. His stated purpose–representing the scientific approach to learning about the aliens–is minimized or tossed aside for the most part. He didn’t need to be a scientist at all to play his part–just had to be a nice, reasonably smart dude supporting Louise’s greatness. What’s that– you’re trying to tell me it’s just a gender role reversal and normally the woman is defined by being the helpmate? Yeah, I won’t say you’re wrong. Still, I’m marking it down as a con rather than a pro or even a neutral.
Arrival is an enjoyable sci-fi movie, well-executed and widely accessible. It’ll get you thinking, and keep you entertained with taut story and solid acting. Hell, some may even like the twist more than I did. It’s certainly a thumbs up from me.