film reel image

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

(Cole's Take) Arrival 2016 * * * 1/2 Stars

Year: 2016
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars (Click on the rating link to see Cole's on-site review)
Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Written by Cole Pollyea

In the month of December, equally important to re-watching our favorite holiday films and sampling ones we’re unfamiliar with is getting to the theater to see new releases. And that is because of the glorious Oscar season (early November to late December), when studios release the most critically touted films of the year. I am here to discuss one particularly interesting and thought-provoking film that is considered a “frontrunner” for the Best Picture Academy Award in 2017. That movie is Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival; and it is spectacular.
Arrival follows Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), who is teamed with Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), and recruited by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to decode and interpret a foreign language used by aliens who have peacefully landed in 12 different locations across the globe. To tell more would be to spoil any of the fascinating twists and turns that the movie makes. That would be a grave mistake, for Arrival is a masterful sci-fi film that demands a totally uncorrupted viewing.

I must first note what entered my mind upon my viewing of Arrival: here is a movie that took a few ideas out of Steven Spielberg’s playbook. It undeniably resembles Close Encounters of the Third Kind with respect to plot, characters, and set design. And I couldn’t have enjoyed it any more. The great Martin Scorsese once said that directing is what one can “smuggle in” from other films. That is evidenced here by director Denis Villeneuve, who successfully pays homage to “Close Encounters” while at the same time creating an original work all his own.

Among Villeneuve’s other work includes 2013’s Prisoners. Like in that absorbing drama, in Arrival, Villeneuve creates a cerebral, chilling atmosphere and fills the screen with soft grey colors. The musical score is enigmatic and repetitive. All of the necessary components for the foundation of a disturbing, thoughtful sci-fi film are here. Fortunately, the movie takes advantage of them.

One of the ways in which Arrival excels is its performances. Amy Adams has the most screen time and gives one of her more memorable performances as the reputable professor and linguist. She articulates the complex emotions of her character through her aware facial expressions and her sensitive delivery of lines. Jeremy Renner is solid, as always, as her supportive and caring colleague. His character has more everyman values than his usual roles do; and I believed him for every second. What’s more, Forest Whitaker as the order-following colonel is extremely effective and his convincing performance here is yet another testament to his versatility as an actor.
It almost goes without saying that most first-rate sci-fi films of the 21st century offer knockout visuals. Arrival is no exception. Beyond the incredible CGI, the movie offers a certain mystique to what we see. We never quite get a full view of the aliens because of an eerie white mist and, in many close-up scenes, there is only focus on certain portions, or characters, on screen. This manipulation of background and camera focus is used to great effect by the director to produce an additional layer of intrigue.

My uncle and colleague wasn’t as enthusiastic about this film as I was. He complained that it was like a puzzle with a number of pieces missing. I obviously disagreed. But I did feel that the movie wasn’t long enough. Some of the most memorable sci-fi films of the recent past, like  Interstellar, run at well over two-and-a-half hours and Arrival is only 118 minutes long. This is not to say that a contemporary sci-fi film cannot be successful with a short running time. This is just to say that when Arrival’s credits rolled, I was settled back into my chair expecting at least twenty more minutes of elaboration.

Arrival is PG-13, family-appropriate for the most part, and certainly targets a more general audience than Interstellar (a more intricate and complex sci-fi film) did. Perhaps this shorter length that irked me will make viewing Arrival a more enjoyable experience for a family.

Written by Cole Pollyea

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