Review: ARRIVAL (2016) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Monday, 9 January 2017

Review: ARRIVAL (2016)

Review: ARRIVAL (2016)

When twelve mysterious alien spacecraft landed on different parts of the world including one in Montana, linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is brought in to help the US military, led by Colonel G.T. Weber (Forest Whitaker), to attempt a communication with the extraterrestrial beings.

REVIEW: Two months after Denis Villeneuve's ARRIVAL opened in the US to a near-universal acclaim, it's nice to see this acclaimed sci-fi drama has finally made its way into our local cinemas. Having seen Villeneuve's previous two movies including PRISONERS (2013) and SICARIO (2015), it is evident that the gifted French-Canadian director has a knack for mixing familiar Hollywood genre with nuanced storyline and characters development.

In ARRIVAL, Villeneuve's latest movie would mark his first foray into the sci-fi territory. The basic structure of the story is familiar: A mysterious alien spacecraft has landed on Earth; a US government quickly responded by deploying the military to find out the alien's motive and ready to attack if necessary; and the leading actor or actress (in this case, Amy Adams) is usually given a pivotal role as an expert of sorts (here, the movie centres on a linguist) to help uncover the extraterrestrial mystery. Despite the familiarity of the genre, ARRIVAL eschews the traditional alien-invasion thriller like INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996) and WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005) in favour for a more cerebral approach that echoes the likes of, say, Robert Zemeckis' CONTACT (1997).

Villeneuve got off to a promising start as he establishes a perfectly sombre tone during the first 3 minutes told in a montage surrounding Louise's happy and sad moments with her cancer-stricken daughter, Hannah (Jadyn Malone, Julia Scarlett Dan and Abigail Pniowsky all playing the same role in different stages of age). Although the scene is condensed, it somehow works wonders as Villeneuve manages to inject varied emotions with the help of Bradford Young's spot-on moody cinematography.

Review: ARRIVAL (2016)

When the story proper finally gets underway with the alien spacecraft landed in different parts of the countries around the world, Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer take their times approaching the story in a subdued low-key manner. In fact, just about everything here from the pod-like spacecraft design to the use of CGI is stripped down to the bare essentials. This is no doubt a great minimalist work of art that a sci-fi genre doesn't have to be so elaborate to prove a point.

Then, there is Villeneuve's frequent music partner Jóhann Jóhannsson, who successfully complement the movie's atmospheric tone with a matching eerie yet beautifully haunting score. This is particularly evident during the first contact scene when Louise and the rest of the crew enter the alien spacecraft. In fact, that scene alone is so captivating it doesn't need a showy special effect to command an audience's attention.

As proven for Emily Blunt in SICARIO, Villeneuve certainly knows his way to bring the best out in his chosen female lead. Here, Amy Adams bring emotional gravitas to her brilliant yet sympathetic performance as Louise Banks. Forest Whitaker, in the meantime, fares equally well with his solid supporting turn as the no-nonsense commanding officer Colonel G.T. Weber.

Review: ARRIVAL (2016)

But for all the near-universal responses in ARRIVAL, the movie is not without its few shares of shortcomings. Apart from Amy Adams and Forest Whitaker, the rest of the cast is mostly neglected to thankless roles. Despite enlisting competent actors like Jeremy Renner and Michael Stuhlbarg, both of their respective roles (one is a physicist, and another one is a CIA agent) are sadly undervalued in this movie. Even if there's a redeeming quality, the only praise I could think of is Renner's lighthearted moment when he nicknamed the two aliens as "Abbott and Costello".

Eric Heisserer's screenplay may have been thoughtful and emotionally penetrating in most parts. However, the frequently deliberate pace tends to bog down the momentum to a near standstill. Not to mention the eventual third-act revelation of the alien's true motive as well as Louise's recurring flashbacks of her beloved daughter is neither as compelling nor mind-blowing as I originally anticipated in the first place.

Although ARRIVAL falls short of becoming a modern sci-fi masterpiece as it should be, the movie remains a reasonably engrossing watch for most serious genre fans. Best of all, it also proves that Villeneuve can be a true ace in handling the sci-fi genre. Looks like the upcoming BLADE RUNNER 2049 this October is in the safe hands.

It's far from a sci-fi masterpiece as it touted to be, but Denis Villeneuve's ARRIVAL still packs a cerebral punch with strong visuals, evocative music score and a first-rate performance from Amy Adams.

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