Director: Denis Villeneuve
Screenwriter: Eric Heisserer, Ted Chiang (story)
Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Runtime: 116 mins
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Review by Dave Griffiths
When the Arrival trailer landed a few months ago one scribe gleefully wrote that this was a film that could see another sci-fi pick up another Oscar. While that may be the case in the term of visuals, it certainly won’t be because of story and you would think this would have to be a longshot for Best Director or Best Picture because to be honest Arrival was nowhere near as good as I expected it to be.
Going into Arrival I expected this to be a film that I would be raving about when I came out. After all I’m a huge fan of Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker while I’ve also loved every film that Denis Villeneuve has directed… even considering Prisoners as one of the best films made in recent times. But sadly Arrival is nothing like anything that Villenueve has directed in the past… and suffers for that reason.
The film centres on linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams – American Hustle) who is called into action by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker – The Last King Of Scotland) when twelve alien crafts suddenly appear and hover over various locations of Earth. Weber convinces Banks to be part of his team, which also includes Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner – The Avengers) and to try and communicate with the aliens so they can have some idea of why they have decided to come to Earth.
The set up for Arrival is impeccable, throw in a side story about Banks suffering from losing her daughter and what you should have is a heartfelt film that really gets to the emotions of its audience. Sadly though something goes horribly wrong and even a director as talented as Villeneuve can’t salvage much from Eric Heisserer’s (Light’s Out) screenplay. Looking back and you realise that perhaps where Arrival goes wrong is you have a film where both the screenwriter and director are attempting to do something very different to what they have done in the past. Heisserer’s bread and butter is suspense, thriller and horror while Villeneuve excels at dramatic, suspenseful films with interesting characters. Arrival is nothing like any of those things.
In fact it is the lack of suspense that really lets Arrival down as a movie. I got my head around the non-linear storyline, well played filmmakers although you may have left a few people scratching their heads, and while the film bordered on being art for the sake of being art its biggest crime was not building on the suspense that really should have been pushed to the forefront. While elements of watching Banks and Donnelly trying to decipher the alien language was interesting the film’s style of them going to the camp, going to the ship, then back to the camp, then back to the ship got tiresome pretty quickly and lacked creativity. Even the scenes where the world is at the brink of war due to different countries reacting in different ways never reached the full height of tension that they should have.
The saving grace for Arrival is the fact that it is beautifully shot. Villeneuve teams up nicely with cinematographer Bradford Young (Selma) to create some interesting shots of the alien craft and some amazing visuals from Bank’s beautiful lakeside home but even that can’t save a film that is let down by a pretty dull screenplay that never allows the talented Jeremy Renner or Forest Whitaker ever reach the great acting heights they are capable of.
Arrival is one of those films that most critics will rave about simply because the artistic twist in the film suggests that they should but don’t get suckered into it. For the most part audience members will find this a dull affair which had great potential. Arrival is not the masterpiece many expected it would be.