A Movie Review
of Arrival (2016)
By Lance Zedric
With joy, prosperity, and brotherhood spilling over half of Mother Earth like cheap champagne after the recent presidential election, we needed another good old-fashioned “alien visits earth” movie like Arrival to restore our hope in the future and ameliorate the added shock of the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series for the first time since Theodore Roosevelt was president. We needed to believe that from the cold, lonely depths of the infinite cosmos, a higher form of life exists and that it hasn’t raced at light speed toward our tiny orb looking to kick ass and takes names—or even to eat us for dinner! And more important, we need to feel that Amy Adams can convince even the most famished extraterrestrial that we’re worth saving—if even from ourselves.
In short, 12 alien spaceships arrive at different locations around the world and linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and ambitious math geek Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), are recruited by military spook Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker) to learn their intentions. Banks and Donnelly attempt to communicate with a pair of alien heptapods—huge seven-legged creatures that resemble walking jellyfish (Don’t laugh!), but the aliens’ chosen medium is writing with black smoke with an alphabet like a Rorschach inkblot, and the process takes months. Eventually, Banks translates their writing and discovers that they have come to help mankind.
True to form, not everyone agrees. Some world leaders, especially from Russia and China, along with some people in our government (imagine that!), doubt the alien’s benevolence and plan a preemptive attack. Banks and Donnelly then race to prevent the possible destruction of mankind. To add a layer to the story, Banks struggles with the recent loss of her daughter to cancer. Her frequent dreams and gnawing mother guilt intensify the somber tone of the film and inject a heightened mood of suspense and uncertainty, as if being visited by a 10-foot talking cnidarian isn’t intense enough!
Artistically, Adams and Renner displayed great chemistry. The talented pair had worked together on American Hustle and were bright spots in the movie. Adams was outstanding in the lead and carried the film commanding each scene with conviction and emotion. Renner played a strong second but did not overpower Adams when sharing the screen. Whitaker, on the other hand, probably needed a paying gig.
Additionally, the musical score was strong, edgy, and segued seamlessly between scenes. The cinematography conveyed a bleak and melancholic mood, perhaps a metaphor for our present condition, and effectively expressed the same kind of joy once felt by Germans living behind the Berlin Wall or North Koreans born on the wrong side of the DMZ. But it did have redeeming moments not divulged here.
At the end of the day, “Arrival” was an emotional/intellectual jigsaw puzzle that left me looking for the missing piece. You know, that classic time loop conundrum that leaves one scratching their head and dripping blood. Although I enjoyed the acting, appreciated the spirit of the story, and was exquisitely foundered on buttered popcorn, I still found myself waiting for the “arrival” of a great movie. Like the Cubs fans used to say, “Wait til next year!” 7.5/10 stars.