Released: November 2016
Selling itself as a thinking person’s alien film, Arrival stands out from it’s siblings in that it lacks almost any action scenes at all. A thoughtful look at how we would communicate with aliens if they did chose to visit, it is much more of a science film than an action film. It comes perilously close to many worn tropes of academics, but just as you start to think you’ve seen this all before, it smartly sidesteps the pitfall, leaving you feeling foolish for having doubted it.
However, whilst being undoubtedly more clued up on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis than you might expect a Hollywood blockbuster, it follows in the footsteps of Interstellar and, for all the clever sheen, falls short of actually being clever. Indeed, it risks alienating both it’s core audiences by lacking the guns and explosions one desires and by ultimately playing fast and loose with academic interpretations of language and fundamentally misunderstanding how translation works. As gripping and intriguing as I found the first two thirds of the film, the last third is so preposterous that, whilst I thoroughly enjoyed watching it unravel before my eyes, after leaving the cinema I felt cheated out of the possibility of a great film.
And this film could have been great. It teeters on the edge. The acting is excellent, even from Amy Adams who is far from one of my favourite actors, the interplay between the two leads works well and on the whole the details of the plot are solid. The power struggle between army and academic feels spot on, and is beautifully handled by a belligerent Forest Whitaker. Jeremy Renner seems mostly to be in the hanger-on role previously reserved for women- he is useful for the plot and adds some humour and likeability to the film, but overall they don’t seem to have had any desire to flesh him out into a real person.
It’s a delight to see something so different being tried on the big screen, and it’s definitely worth a watch. If like me you were almost fooled by the trailer into not going because you thought you could already see the irredeemable plot holes looming large, go and see it. You’ll spend much of your time being pleasantly surprised at how misleading the trailer was and how much thought has gone into it. But do be prepared to squirm at the smug yet naïve lessons on international relations that come through, and to scoff at the twist ending that just isn’t as clever as it thinks it is.