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‘ARRIVAL’ MAY BE THE BEST FILM OF 2016 SO FAR

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“Arrival” is an incredibly ambitious film for a director who may be coming into his prime. Dennis Villenueve, in his most expensive movie to date, may just have outdone himself again. The director of thrillers like Sicario and Prisoners, Villenueve brings that tension to a new genre of film in a flawless way. Despite feeling a bit slow, this film is provocative of some very interesting ideas, and gets the most out of the cast and crew to make the next classic sci-fi.

When mysterious alien ships arrive scattered all over Earth, linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is called upon to communicate with the strange beings. It does not take long for Banks and her associate Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to begin making unprecedented strides, thanks to their courage and disregard for the military’s instructions. But as countries like China and Russia grow more distrustful of the aliens, and as they come to understand their unique language, Banks begins to realize that the aliens hold valuable secrets. These are very different looking aliens than we are used to, they are very tall and use their feet/tentacles to spray liquid which forms into their language, which is mostly circles with different marks in certain spots connotating specific meanings. Banks learns this language, and begins to learn that the language has more to it than communication. Banks is also dealing with emotional trauma throughout, and her emotional progression is more important to the story than it may seem.

As usual with Villenueve, this film is shot incredibly.  There are many classically beautiful shots, but what was most impressive is when they arrive on the ship itself. Villenueve uses gravity especially to his advantage in these moments, creating incredible and unearthly shots that bring the character’s perspective to the camera. Each location in the film also had a rich color scheme of its own, so the lighting crew deserves props for setting the mood in each scene. The cinematography in general was just grand, using pan-outs and some symmetry as well to make a visually engaging film. The special effects were also great, though maybe less ambitious than the film trailer may let on. The way they shot these aliens and their ship was surprisingly practical, but still looks real and impressive. 

The entire film had a feeling of realism, in part because the plot never got too ridiculous with how the world reacts to these aliens, keeping it simple and believable. The plot may truthfully be what makes the movie worth seeing.  What starts out as a character-driven drama about a woman communicating with more intelligent life forms slowly into a mind-bender, leaving you dwelling on the ins and outs on concepts like fate and even time.  The plot uses these ideas to create a richly engaging story, one that focuses on the perspective of Dr. Banks.  All these ideas are alluded to until the movie reaches its real “twist” moment, and everything that did not make sense about the film or seemed unimportant becomes what ties everything together perfectly.

Amy Adams deserves a lot of credit for her performance. Her character has a lot in common with the viewer of the film in some ways, and she masterfully guides the viewer emotionally. The same goes for Jóhann Jóhannsson, who is Villenueve’s usual soundtrack man. Jóhannsson’s haunting score evokes so much power throughout the film, him and Villenueve once again showcase a real knack for building tension through music and camera work. This built tension syncs perfectly with the plot. It never feels overdramatic and there’s constantly a feeling of racing against the clock for the protagonists. The ending is incredibly satisfying as well, giving new meaning to many of the earliest scenes in the film

This film did not miss a beat. Some may find it a bit slow, but the pacing is quicker than it seems, as each new scene contributes to the unraveling story. With a one hour and fifty-eight-minute runtime, the film truly edited well, leaving no unimportant scenes. The beginning may not seem important, but pay attention because you may even figure out the “twist” early in. This film is a strong 5/5, an incredible drama and engaging mystery that merely uses science fiction to form the plot.  Anybody looking for a tense and thoughtful journey through the mysteries of alien life would absolutely love this film, and it may very well garner some award season attention as well. Many good films come out in the coming months of December and January, but as it stands right now, Arrival is 2016’s best film so far.

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