Hailing from director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Scicario), Arrival was never going to be a predictable alien invasion film. Instead, the plot follows Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguistics professor and expert translator. When twelve strange, egg-shaped objects arrive on Earth, and no one can figure out to communicate with the aliens inside, Louise is brought in alongside science expert Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). The two must try to communicate with the aliens, and discover if they are friend or foe.
The anticipation in the build-up to “first contact” is palpable, and the powerful score by Johann Johannsson makes it even more nail-biting. As Louise and Ian desperately try to figure out how to talk to them, they are also racing against time as other countries, including China and Russia, make decisions about their domes that could affect the entire planet.
For a science fiction film, it’s refreshing that instead of relying on super powers or brute strength, the key to saving the planet comes in the form of an academic, and a female at that. Making a departure from her usual roles in comedy, Adams proves her worth as a serious actor. She does a great job of portraying the mental stress of meeting aliens (how do you introduce yourself to someone who doesn’t have hands, or a face, for that matter?), along with the gravity of her situation and the knowledge that the fate of the world rests on her shoulders. Renner provides some much-needed light-hearted relief, bringing balance to the emotional aspect of the film.
The film is thought-provoking and topical; it highlights the importance of communication, and how we interact with each other as a species. The US is reluctant to share what they learn with China, and their paranoia about how other countries are handling the issue stops them from making any real progress. Given the current political climate, this message seems more important than ever. In the context of the film, that doesn’t mean a “them versus us” type of plot between aliens and humans, but it does force us to take a closer look at how we can rid ourselves of that mentality here on Earth.