Quick Hit: A quiet sci-fi filled with beautiful shots, extraordinary ideas about time and family, and of course, a tremendous (SNUBBED!) performance by Amy Adams.
Ah, science fiction. I go a bit and don’t watch you, and then when I come back to you, you open me with open arms.
You remember how a few posts ago I was discussing how silence in a movie truly doesn’t bug me (I’m talking about in borefest Loving)? Well, this movie proves that. Arrival has long periods where nothing, or at least very little, is said. As I watched it, I was amazed at how into it I was, because overall, it doesn’t seem like a ton is happening (you know, after ALIENS land – movies are starting to de-sensitize me I guess) until the terrific final act.
Essentially, if you need a boiled down plot, Arrival tells the story of a linguist who is recruited (somewhat forcefully) to help translate from the aliens (dubbed Hepapods) that have landed. That’s all I’m going to tell you, but know that the film begins to cover topics such as, but not limited to: non-linear time, linguistics, physics, mathematics, world peace, human’s capacity for destruction, immigration fears, etc. etc. There is so much that could be gleaned from this film, and a lot of that will take multiple viewings (I’d be happy to write companion pieces to this one, if anyone is interested). But what astounds me truly are two things – one, the director Dennis Villeneuve, and two Amy Adams as its star.
First, to go backwards from my normal routine of throwing the acting up front and letting the rest be thrown to the wolves (ok, I hope I’m better than that, but let’s be honest here – I like acting). Dennis Villeneuve consistently creates something new, while embracing the old. It’s impossible to not say that the film was inspired by Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, because some of the shots are exactly the same. But what keeps the film from becoming a copy-cat feature is the way it explores the themes I described above, while allowing character driven motivation to spring naturally. Villeneuve gives us different color schemes in every situation, which serves a few purposes. First, it allows him to paint a mood (as most colors do for directors). But second, and perhaps most important, it helps allow the story to grow without becoming too confusing. With some of the non-linear elements of the story, you need something to help you pay attention to which time period we are in.
Which of course, brings me to Adams. What a terrific performance. Every scene throughout the film, Adams shines with the ability to portray emotion that is vibrating just beneath the surface of her face. Though her smile makes a few brief appearances, this film focuses far more on her eyes and mouth, which give a depth of soul that I was extremely surprised I could feel. It makes the emotional payoffs near the end of the film that much tougher, but also that much more enjoyable. You understand all her reasoning, and your heart goes out to her. When a performance inspires that much in a viewer, it should have been recognized. Shame Academy, Shame.
Side Note – This film works as an extremely interesting companion piece with Adam’s other film this year Nocturnal Animals. Just wanted to through that aside in there.
There are other actors present in the film, including Jeremy Renner and Forrest Whittaker. Both perform admirably, with Renner having few scenes to truly stretch his wings, and Whittaker simply shouting his lines. Most times I would have flogged the lack of character development in these side characters, but there is enough there (particularly from Renner – who does his best acting in soft spoken scenes about life and morals – aka Hawkeye on the farm) that it actually accents Adam’s performance.
Overall, I think Arrival should have been nominated for much, much more than it was, despite being nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing. I’m giving Arrival an “A+”.
For more on this film check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"