Arrival (2016) Review

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Runtime: 116 minutes

Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, et al…

Plot (taken from IMDb): When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors.


Denis Villeneuve is quickly becoming my favourite director. Both Prisoners and Sicario are fantastic films, and his latest, Arrival, may be even better. For those who enjoy their sci-fi with a bit of action, turn away now, Arrival is the thinking man’s sci-fi. It’s thought-provoking, imaginative and seriously well made.

Arrival is a slow-moving film, taking cues from its sci-fi forebears such as 2001: a Space Odyssey. But as with 2001, every shot in Arrival counts, every line builds another layer of intrigue. Why did the aliens land on Earth? You have to watch through the whole film to find out. It’s more than worth it in the end. You’ll discover a new fondness for language and thanks to Amy Adams’ stellar performance as professor Louise Banks, you’ll learn that you should never give up, no matter the odds.

The whole world is against Louise Banks. She is drafted in by the US government to aid the military in their search for answers surrounding the sudden arrival of 12 alien ships. She’s helped before, and they believe that her knowledge of language can help them again. You feel the trepidation of professor Banks as she enters the alien (Hectapod) ship for the first time. Claustrophobic images are played to you in some kind of horrible montage. The camera is flipped upside-down to increase the levels of paranoia. Making first contact would be a horrible, gut-wrenching experience and Arrival makes you feel each troubled breath and step of it all.


The aliens are mysterious, hand-like squid creatures. Their intentions are unknown, but they seem willing to co-operate with Louise and her crew of fellow scientists. The aliens spew out an ink-like substance from behind their protective screen, small circles dance through the air as ink through water. It is up to professor Banks to learn what each symbol means, and as it turns out, learning a whole new written language from scratch takes time and a lot of effort, made even worse by the unfriendly and stressed military world she now finds herself in as the world teeters on the edge of war.

Allies are hard to come by for Ms. Banks, but she strikes up a good relationship with Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a scientist who’s initially more interested in the science of the alien ships than their language. Louise’s mission is against the clock, with nerves felt all over the world. She needs time to figure out exactly what the Hectapods are trying to say, but those around her don’t have enough time to give. The Chinese (of course) grow impatient. It all starts to get frantic. Arrival is a tense film.


Villeneuve knows how to weave his way through tension. Both Prisoners and Sicario before Arrival offer masterful displays of tension. Arrival is the smartest of the three however. Prisoners and Sicario both suffered from trying to be too clever, and falling at the last hurdle by ways of confusion. Arrival attempts this, but it never gets too clever for its own good. Sure, you’ll be left with questions after watching it, but what great movie doesn’t leave you wanting more, or wanting to know more. Arrival will stick in your mind long after the credits roll. Arrival makes you think, and that’s quite hard to come by in mainstream cinema.

Arrival is tense, it’s thought-provoking and thanks to the art team, it’s beautifully shot, scored and designed. Amy Adams’ fantastic turn as professor Louise Banks spearheads the film spectacularly too. You can see her pain and frustration etched into her face, and you can hear it in her voice, too. How she didn’t win an Oscar for this performance, I’ll never know. She provided the stand-out acting performance of 2016 in Arrival, which was the stand-out film of 2016. I voted it as the best film of 2016 and I stand by it. Arrival is a phenomenally good thinking man’s science-fiction masterpiece.


Arrival represents science-fiction at the top of its game.


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