Arrival (2016) is a film I walked into expecting to dislike, but which ended up one of my favourite films of the year. Alien films have a history of being too heavy-handed, too action-focused or plain ridiculous. This is none of the above. Arrival is a slow, methodical film where every scene and moment is crafted for a purpose. By the end I found myself looking back over the film and realising what I had missed with the knowledge I now had, seeing even more beauty than I had while it played out.
This is a slow, dialogue-heavy film with a good amount of technical talk and suspense built through emotion. This may put off some viewers but for those who enjoy a slow film, Arrival is a treat. I was impressed with how the film treated the response to an advanced race landing on Earth, as tensions built around the planet and apprehension created an atmosphere of visible, sometimes violent stress. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner did a great job in the lead roles, though Renner a little weak at times if only because Adams delivers such a powerful character.
Adams stands out with a nuanced performance that gripped me from start to finish whether it was investment in her stress or sudden breakthroughs and desperation to find a positive outcome. By the end of the film, I felt a real attachment to the character and this is testament to Adams’ performance.
While none of the effects are madly beautiful, the cinematography is. Wide shots of the spacecraft are stunning, and when the film is at its quietest and slowest, it is also at its most beautiful. Flashbacks and dream sequences are cleverly separated from the film stylistically, and tie in well with the plot by the conclusion.
Director Denis Villeneuve, who previously directed similarly tense films such as Enemy (2013) and Prisoners (2013). links every moment in this film together and makes every second count, without confusing the audience but while also not giving anything away.
Arrival is a beautiful, clever film that will grip a patient viewer throughout, with what may be Amy Adams’ best performance so far and a final twist that blew me away. Likely one of my top of films of 2016, and one I can’t wait to watch again.