Film Review: ‘Arrival’

Denis Villeneuve delivers a slice of remarkable science fiction cinema 

that’s far from being a typical blockbuster…


Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Tzi Ma

Directed by:  Denis Villeneuve / Written by:  Eric Heisserer (adapted from the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang)

What’s it about?

When strange alien vessels appear around the Earth, linguist Louise Banks is called upon by the U.S. Military to try and communicate with the mysterious visitors…

In review

Wowed by critics and earning a respectable box office gross on its theatrical run late last year, director Denis Villeneuve’s intelligent and mesmerising sci-fi mystery has far more in common with the likes of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar than more straight forward, crowd-pleasing (but generally enjoyable on their own merits) alien invasion blockbusters such as Independence Day.

Based on Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life”, Arrival (not to be confused with the Charlie Sheen starring bargain-bin 1996 B-movie The Arrival) is beautifully acted, hauntingly realised and thought provoking with its intellectually challenging and mind-bending hard SF concepts that shuns the more generic, formulaic and predictable tropes that all too often afflict the genre.

Arrival concerns the mysterious appearance of twelve pebble-like extra-terrestrial vessels around the globe and the efforts to form a means of communication with the alien visitors and discover their intentions and purpose for coming to Earth.  Heading up the central cast is Amy Adams as Louise Banks, a linguistics expert enlisted by the military to board the alien ‘shell’ floating above the United States.  Sorely overlooked at this year’s Academy Awards, Adams delivers a powerhouse performance that subtly yet believably conveys the intellect and emotional strife of her character.  Supporting Adams is Jeremy Renner as physicist Ian Donnelly, a role that demonstrates his ability to stretch beyond the action-star heroics of the Mission: Impossible and Avengers franchises.  Completing the central core of characters is Forest Whitaker in a suitably authoritative turn as Colonel Weber.

Avoiding cliché, Arrival depicts the reaction of the global governments, their military solutions, the awe of the scientific community and the escalating panic of the world’s population with a laudable degree of realism and plausibility, presenting a painfully true reflection upon the world as it stands today.

Earning plaudits for his work on Sicario, Denis Villeneuve – currently putting the finishing touches to Blade Runner 2049 – brings strokes of arthouse cinema to Arrival whilst maintaining a focus on the principal cast, keeping the overall experience dazzling and captivating via Bradford Young’s incredible cinematography and Johann Johannsson’s wonderfully atmospheric and immersive music score (embellished by the film’s inspired audio design), skilfully ratcheting up the tension as the final act satisfyingly unfolds.

Sure to be revered as a modern science fiction classic in the years to come, at its heart and beneath heady intellectual ideas, Arrival contains messages about communication and understanding that expresses a sense of hope, even in the face of darkness.

The bottom line:  Haunting, beautifully constructed and simply mesmerising, Arrival is a wondrous piece of intellectual SF cinema that’s masterfully directed and superbly acted.

Arrival is available to own on Blu-ray, DVD and digital formats now.


Preparing to make contact: Amy Adams stars in Denis Villeneuve’s captivating sci-fi mystery ‘Arrival’.

15 thoughts on “Film Review: ‘Arrival’

  1. Great review of an amazing film. Arrival was on of my fave films from last year, thoughtful, moving, and powerful. I love how they communicate with the aliens. Its one of the films that you notice something new each time you watch it, marvellous SciFi film 🙂

    • Thanks Paul, agreed – I originally saw it on release last November and was equally blown away watching the Blu-ray last night. Blade Runner 2049 is certainly in safe hands!

      • I really enjoyed this when I saw it originally in cinema, was totally blown away how good Arrival was. I’ve not had a chance to see the Blu Ray yet, certainly want to see this film again. Yes, think you are right there about Blade Runner 2049 as well 🙂

  2. Wonderful review; there should be more sci-fi films like Arrival. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good crowd pleaser, but there are times for more films that offer something to think about long after you leave the theaters.

    • I totally agree, a good crowd pleaser is always enjoyable but there’s definitely a place for films like Arrival. The last film that left me as awe struck and mesmerised as this was Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, here’s hoping for more thought provoking SF in the years to come.

  3. My boy Dennis Villeneuve! French Canadian represent! 😀 I absolutely love the movies he directs and I am ashamed to say that I missed my opportunity to watch this in theaters although I absolutely wanted to do so. I REALLY can’t wait for this to appear on Netflix, you beautiful review definitely revived my hype for this. Really looking forward to watching that one movie at the Oscars that I wanted it to win everything even if I hadn’t seen it yet (I just know it’s going to mind-blowing!). 😀 Really glad to hear you enjoyed this, fantastic review!

    – Lashaan

    • Thank you kind sir! Villeneuve is certainly an exciting film maker, Sicario was excellent and Arrival a triumph for intelligent SF. I really can’t wait to see how Blade Runner 2049 turns out and it’ll be interesting to see if the mooted remake of Dune with Villeneuve at the helm gains traction.

  4. I’ve got friends who struggled with Arrival, much as I try to bend their opinion to meet mine. I keep thinking about how soulful and somber it was, and that how that’s a great point to touch base with science fiction. When I think of the great sci-fi films, there’s an underlying darkness and fear of the unknown operating beneath the surface; Alien, Blade Runner, 2001, District 9, Moon…

    • Yeah there seems to be a number folks out there that don’t want to or can’t open their minds to films like this. Perhaps the problem is that,l audiences are being overfed with CGI laden rollercoaster ride blockbusters which although can be enjoyable enough so many of them lack any real depth. It’s a shame because people are generally a lot smarter than studios really consider.

  5. Good review. Enjoyed the film very much, SCI-Fi with the emphasis on science. At the end my wife realized she had unknowingly chatted to the author Ted Chiang, whose short story the film is based on, during an earlier US ski trip!

    • Thanks very much. Wow – now that must’ve been a bizzarre revelation! I definitely need to check out Chiang’s short story as he seems like such an interesting author.

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