[quotes quotes_style=”bquotes” quotes_pos=”center”]If the gatekeepers of classic screen sci-fi are at all anxious about the stamp that director Denis Villeneuve might put on his upcoming Blade Runner project — a sequel coming 35 years after the iconic original — then the class, intelligence and cool visual style of Arrival should provide reassurance. How refreshing to watch an alien contact movie in which no cities are destroyed or monuments toppled, and no adversarial squabbling distracts the human team from the challenges of their complex interspecies encounter. Anchored by an internalized performance from Amy Adams rich in emotional depth, this is a grownup sci-fi drama that sustains fear and tension while striking affecting chords on love and loss…[/quotes]
[quotes quotes_style=”bquotes” quotes_pos=”center”]…the refusal of the director and screenwriter to talk down to their audience — or to be afraid of giving Arrival intellectual as well as dramatic life — is one of the movie’s chief strengths. Likewise, the absence of heavy-handedness in its socio-political message of progress through unity and open dialogue.
Another is Adams’ moving performance. Restraint is very much the defining note here, but within that generally muted emotional palette, Louise registers as a woman who has accepted her solitude and pain while never attempting to cover her deep wound. That makes her extraordinarily receptive to connecting with a mysterious species whose intent is automatically interpreted by much of the planet as hostile. Renner is given less to do, though the mutual respect and burgeoning friendship between Ian and Louise is drawn in gentle, affecting strokes by both actors. Their rapport builds to a touching final reveal that earns its emotional impact subtly, not with the usual flood of sentiment.[/quotes]
[quotes quotes_style=”bquotes” quotes_pos=”center”]In a series of meetings with the wedge’s inhabitants – rapturously eerie Lovecraftian crab-elephants, with legs like witches’ fingers – Louise teaches them rudimentary English while they respond in their own written language, which looks at first coffee-mug rings but slowly takes on sense and shape.
These confrontations, captured with brooding, low-key dazzle by the brilliant cinematographer Bradford Young, are the best and creepiest scenes Villeneuve has yet shot, which fans of his earlier work will know is really saying something. They’re meditations on anxious human faces – lit from below, framed by reflective visors and orange hazard suits, against backgrounds of empty grey or billowing white.
The full significance of this takes time to bloom, but Arrival’s ideas about language are reflected in its own storytelling methods in ways far too smart to spoil, and which result in a mid-film realisation – less sudden twist than sinuous unwinding – that forces you to reinterpret everything you’ve seen…
The time to pull this stuff apart probably isn’t two months before Arrival’s UK release, so let’s just say the food for thought on offer here is Michelin-star-worthy. It turns an already beautiful, provocative allegory into the kind of science-fiction that can bump your whole worldview off balance. This is riveting, dizzying stuff from Villeneuve, and another early peak in a thunderously exciting year at the Venice Film Festival.[/quotes]
Owen Gleiberman, Variety
[quotes quotes_style=”bquotes” quotes_pos=”center”]So you have to say this for “Arrival,” a solemnly fantastic tale of a highly enigmatic alien visit: The film has been made, by the intensely gifted director Denis Villeneuve, with an awareness that we’ve already been through this more than enough times, and that the definition of an alien movie — or, at least, one that’s trying to be a serious piece of sci-fi, and not just a popcorn lark like “Independence Day” — is that it’s going to hypnotize us with something that appears extraordinary because it’s altogether unprecedented…
…True to its title, “Arrival” makes an absorbing spectacle of the initial alien set-up, alternately stoking and sating our curiosity. The aliens don’t quite have personalities, but there’s still something tender and touching about them. There are also, frankly, elements of familiarity. The sounds they emit — low moans louder than a pipe organ — echo the sounds made by the ship in “Close Encounters.” And when we first see those squid-like legs, they look a lot like the alien tentacles in “The War of the Worlds,” and the more closely we look at them, the more they look like gigantic versions of E.T.’s fingers. The point being that even though Villeneuve is a bold filmmaker, when it comes to this subject, Spielberg’s vision is hard to get away from; it still somehow infuses everything…
…At its best, “Arrival” has an eerie grandeur, but if the film starts off as neo-Spielberg, it ends up as neo-Christopher Nolan meets neo-Terrence Malick — it turns into an ersatz mind-bender. You feel you’ve had a close encounter with what might have been an amazing movie, but not actual contact.[/quotes]
Jessica Kiang, The Playlist
[quotes quotes_style=”bquotes” quotes_pos=”center”]It’s hard to adequately describe the immensity of the ambition of Denis Villeneuve‘s “Arrival,” a film that dances with concepts so colossal they’ve rather obliterated most of the previous films that have attempted to grapple with them (Robert Zemeckis‘ “Contact” and Christopher Nolan‘s “Interstellar” come to mind). But “Arrival,” the shimmering apex of Villeneuve’s run of form that started back in 2010 with “Incendies,” calmly, unfussily and with superb craft, thinks its way out of the black hole that tends to open up when ideas like time travel, alien contact and the next phase of human evolution are bandied about. A great deal of the credit must go to the remarkable short story on which Eric Heisserer‘s restrained script is based (“The Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang), but it’s Villeneuve’s dedicated intelligence that brings it off the page and onto the screen with an apparent simplicity that connotes a refreshing faith not just in the material, but in the audience. It’s a monolith, a megalith, but like the gigantic alien craft that comes to rest somewhere above Montana at the start of the film, despite its immensity it hovers elegantly overhead. The film defies gravity.
…There are questions and fears that are so fundamental that they’re shared by the most idealistic of linguistic professors and the most bellicose of Chinese generals, and when the story takes us there, it is immeasurably moving.
That is what happens in a third act which is perhaps an all-time great example of how to release the massive power that your considered pacing has been quietly accumulating the whole time, and one of the cleverest uses of non-chronological storytelling in memory. The slow build to the grand reveal is the most impressive aspect of “Arrival,” because most films that ask Big Questions flake out at supplying an answer. And that’s only to be expected: if you really knew the secrets of the universe would your first thought be to write them into a screenplay? But “Arrival” gets better as it goes on, pursues its logic to its furthest extreme and beyond. It doesn’t just theorize, it comes to a conclusion.[/quotes]
Arrival opens November 11 and will be released by Paramount.
[Check back. More to come.]