Arrival – BFI LFF – Review

After making his mark with some gritty and dark indie titles such as Sicario and Prisoners,  Denis Villeneuve has his Sci-Fi moment with The Arrival. The world descends into chaos and a climate of fear as several Alien vessels land on Earth. Why is unclear and professional linguist Dr Louise Banks, Amy Adams, is drafted by the US Army to try and translate their messages. Accompanied by scientist Ian Donnelly, Jeremy Renner. Banks has to fight against almost immediate scepticism as to the value of her field, the US army feeling more keen to find a reason to pull the trigger than seek diplomacy. Time is equally against them as other world powers are working together and against each other, threaten to obliterate progress before Banks can establish their true intentions.

Villeneuve knows how to respect and value a more critical mature audience, and there is plenty going on with The Arrival to satisfy that market. Playing with world politics and mass hysteria, a lot of angles are considered but are balanced out with Dr Banks and the underlying trauma she does not speak of. With such an established lead cast of Adams, Renner also Forrest Whitaker and Mark Stuhlberg, there are no weak performances, yet the script does not look to ask for more from them. Adopting grey overtones visually compliments the piece but there is a feel for it to at least offer some moments of breath taking cinematography. Unlike Sicario and Prisoners, the action is a bit mute and as a consequence, Villeneuve’s masterful capacity for nail biting suspense and tension is not all too prominent here. One of it’s most irritating flaws is the ad hoc horrendous use of CGI, that really jar with the photo realness of the rest of the piece. But the main hinge on whether The Arrival has cult Scientist-Fi potential is hindered at the mistiming of it’s reveal. All the clever subtleties in the script are undermined as the twist is revealed too early.

By no means groundbreaking but when the lead role is female, a scientist and compassionate and is left to save the world by herself, it feels rather refreshing. Not a clear cut blockbuster, but like current contemporaries such as Nolan and Nichol, he’s firmly part of the New Hollywood that offers a vision currently untainted.

★★★

Chris Aitken

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