Director: Denis Villeneuve
Oh fuck me. Yes, I am still on a giddy post-cinema high, but this might just be the best science fiction movie I’ve ever seen.
It’s a first contact story, sparked off when twelve mysterious craft appear in locations all over the world. The US military enlist a linguistic expert, Dr Louise Banks (played by an excellent Amy Adams), to travel to the landing site in Montana and aid efforts to communicate with the aliens in order to discover the purpose behind their arrival, while in the background the global reaction threatens to slide into conflict. To say much more would be getting into spoiler territory – trust me, there is one word I am dying to type here to give some idea of what the film is about, but I’m scared lest it give too much away.
As someone who has consumed a great deal of science fiction, written and cinematic, there’s a feeling you get when you’re reading a great SF novel and you suddenly click with the concepts and ideas. It’s like someone has pried open the top of your head and filled it with light, changing the way you’re looking at what’s going on. I rarely get that feeling with SF films (don’t get me wrong, I love them, and I get other things out of them, but that sense of intellectual exploration and philosophical enquiry is usually absent). Blade Runner came close, as did 2001 (which is echoed quite heavily in the first half hour here). Interstellar fell embarrassingly short after selling itself on exactly that kind of promise, but Arrival delivers it in spades. Yes, there are spaceships and aliens, but this is far removed from a zippy shoot em up space opera. It’s great to see a movie that focuses on intellectual effort rather than action (there is a subplot around a bomb that induces some tense moments but ultimately has no bearing on the outcome of the movie). I guess the closest word to what I felt while watching it was delight, as the pieces slot slowly slot into place and you realise exactly what’s going on. I may have made this film sound like a dry intellectual exercise, but there’s a real emotional story at its heart, along with some genuinely tense and exciting moments. I absolutely loved it.
Denis Villeneuve’s previous movie was the excellent Sicario. His next is Blade Runner 2, which sounds like a colossally bad idea, but if anyone can pull it off, I’m starting to think he can.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed:
really good films