Directed by Denis Villeneuve
I can’t speak highly enough about this movie. It awed me, moved me and made me think. Which is a trifecta that is rarely attained by any movie. Having seen it twice since it’s theatrical release in November I can tell you that it not only holds up to repeat viewings, but I would agree with many on the web that say that the second time you watch this movie may actually be superior to the first.
Here’s a movie that manages to take the high-brow concept of linguistics and make it as engaging as any action sequence. (By the way, the only traditional action scene in this movie takes place off camera.) It’s also a movie that tells the now familiar story of first contact but instead of falling into cliché it takes a scientific approach. The science of this movie feels as real as anything we learned in high school and yet doesn’t get caught up in it. Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar being an example of film that went a bit too far down the scientific rabbit hole.
Arrival places the talented up-and-comer, Denis Villeneuve, in the director’s chair. A rising star in Hollywood who is also directing Blade Runner 2049, which amps up my excitement for that movie exponentially. Here he puts together a complete and self-contained narrative based on an award winning short story by Ted Chiang, which, in this world of reboots and cinematic universes, is certainly refreshing. Distinct in my mind is the skillful use of Hitchcockian suspense that permeates the movie as a whole, but dominates the most engaging scenes in this movie.
As good as Villeneuve was here, for me, there were really only two people that took this movie to the next level, and it’s not who you would think. Bradford Young as Director of Photography and Johann Johannsson as composer are the secret ingredients to Arrival. Young does a masterful job capturing endlessly beautiful shots. From stunning vistas to camerawork that will literally twist your brain, this is a movie that needs to be seen on as big a screen as possible. In terms of the score, Johannsson crafts the perfect accompaniment to those previously mentioned visuals. Distant and ambient, it sets the mood emotionally and intellectually. I suppose the only (very minor) gripe I had was that at times it was hard to distinguish between the score and the eerily subtle natural sounds of the film.
Here’s where I start to disagree with the common sentiment: Many believe that Amy Adams was snubbed by the Academy for a Best Actress nomination. I’ll readily admit I have not seen all the performances in that category, but I can say that I didn’t leave the theatre blown away by her performance. In no means do I think she was bad. She was really good in fact. I just don’t know if I would consider her lack of a nomination a “snub”. Same goes for Jeremy Renner who was her on screen counterpart when it came delivering the smart and emotionally distant dialogue that kept the film from getting too stuffy. The only exception being the oddly placed Renner voiceover/montage that seems to come out of an entirely different movie. Forrest Whittaker is also present but is painfully underused and relegated to an uninteresting military head-honcho role.
Arrival is a movie that weaves a yarn which only gets more intriguing over time, and keeps you guessing up to the final moments. Everything that should feel trite feels somehow fresh and all of it is told through a masterclass of cinematography and beautifully ambient sound. It’s science fiction at its finest and one of my favourite movies of the year.
Please enjoy an excerpt from our Oscar Preview Show below. Unfortunately we did experience some technical difficulties that caused some small skipping and clipping in parts of this clip. We do apologize.
For More Oscar talk check out the entire Tower of Babble Podcast Oscar Preview Show.