***1/2 stars (out of four)
Alien appearances on film are usually viewed as either cute or threatening. It’s rare that a movie explores what the actual logistics would be if the human race received an alien visit. Director Denis Villeneuve’s (Sicario) new film Arrival explores these questions in ways that’s both cerebral and emotional.
Amy Adams plays a linguist employed by the army to decipher what alien visitors are saying. She’s joined by a theoretical physicist (Jeremy Renner). But they’re not the only ones trying to talk to the aliens. 11 other countries also received visits from the spaceships. The various earthly governments are both worried about the aliens’ intentions and how much information they should share with their fellow humans.
It all makes for compelling viewing, especially the explorations of the nuances of language and communication. But where Arrival soars is in its final act. It’s rare to see a late-movie twist that is surprising, but still makes sense upon reflection. Arrival’s twist pulls that off and manages to be simultaneously gut-wrenching and bittersweet. It ends up serving as a reminder that life’s joys and heartbreaks are often tightly intertwined.
After an uninspiring September and October, the autumn movie season looks to be picking up in quality with Arrival and Hacksaw Ridge. Here’s to hoping the trend continues.