Movie Review: Arrival


Arrival (2016)

Rated PG-13: For Minimal Language and Violence

Running Time: 116 minutes (1 hour and 56 minutes)

Genre/s: Adaptation, Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction

Released on November 11, 2016 (US Release Date; Available For Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by 21 Laps Entertainment, FilmNation Entertainment, Lava Bear Films, Paramount Pictures and Sony Pictures

Based on the Short Story "Story of Your Life" Written by Ted Chiang

Writer: Eric Heisserer

Director: Denis Villienueve

  • Amy Adams as Doctor Louise Banks
  • Jeremy Renner as Doctor Ian Donelly
  • Forest Whitaker as Colonel G.T. Weber
  • Michael Stuhlbarg as Agent David Halpern

Get ready, for yet another science-fiction movie about aliens visiting our world, featuring a cast of talented actors playing as scientists and military personnel, who are all trying to ensure the safety of humankind. Only this time... there is not much action at all, or even an invasion story, and instead, it is about humans actually (trying) negotiating for once with extraterrestrials? It might sound like the perfect recipe for a good, relaxing sleep, but I can assure you that this, being considered as my favorite movie of 2016, is undoubtedly one of the finest films that I and Dad have watched! We are not joking. We really do love this flick. Dateline Movies is back again with reviewing, well, movies of course, but now, we are heading to Oscar territory as we review the second movie that I watched during my two-month anti-stress movie marathon, the awe-inspiring, the jaw-dropping cinematic marvel that is Arrival. Since director Denis Villanueve is about to revive a Ridley Scott classic that Scott himself is too busy to direct due to commitments with Alien: Covenant, the sequel to Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, we might as well review Villianueve's most recent outing! Also, spoiler alert!


What is the movie about?

English professor Louise Banks, played by Adams (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice) wakes up one day to see that there are twelve unidentified flying objects hovering over the sky. Since she has nothing else to do, she goes to work, despite the fact that there is mass hysteria occurring all around her.

While going through her usual routine, Colonel G.T. Weber, played by Whitaker (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) seeks her assistance, in hopes that she can be able to decipher the mysterious messages the aliens are sending out, given her professional background, and with that she accepts the mission. 

Traveling to Montana, one of the sites where one of the ships are located, she teams-up with fellow scientist Ian Donelly, played by Renner (Captain America: Civil War) in trying to establish communication with the mysterious visitors, who seem to be carrying something of value.

However while the rest of the world is falling apart, due to fear of potential alien attacks, the leaders of other nations are doing things their own way in order to solve the crisis, while Agent David Halpern, played by Stuhlbarg (Doctor Strange) acting as an obstacle, and the world coming close to doomsday.

What we think of the movie?

Acting = (5/5)

You might know her as Lois Lane in the DC Extended Universe, and is about to reprise her role in the forthcoming Justice League movie, but for most of us youngsters, including me, who were born in the 2000s, she is Giselle from Disney's classic, Enchanted. Many years later, after appearing in much more serious roles, Amy Adams has since distinguished herself for her versatile acting range, and with Arrival, Adams added yet another spectacular performance to her resume. Here, Adams delivers depth and emotion to Louise Banks, a grief-stricken mother who lost her daughter after a terminal illness (or did she?). In the movie's more tender moments, specifically the ones featuring Hannah, Louise's daughter, that show the various dimensions of a mother-daughter relationship, from its ups to its downs, Adams truly shines, delivering a magnetically appealing and heartwarming performance that anchors the film with its humanity. I simply cannot believe that she did not even receive a nominee for Best Actress for her work here, which is just a shame because Adams really did a magnificent job, and that includes her performance in the psychedelic psychological drama Nocturnal Animals, which we still have not watched, but we heard was excellent.

The one thing I have noticed so far from Jeremy Renner is that he is usually an underestimated talent. Despite delivering his best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Clint Barton, also known as Hawkeye, in the Mission: Impossible franchise as William Brandt, and even in The Bourne Legacy as a leading man in the form of the film's main protagonist, Aaron Cross, he would not always be given enough credit for his many efforts. In Arrival, Renner finds himself playing a certain character type that we have already seen him do before, a snarky and charismatic know-it-all. Aside from adding some slight humor to a serious movie, Renner's on-screen chemistry with Adams, whom he shares an actor connection with as both of them appeared in another Oscar-worthy movie, American Hustle, really helps to liven the entire movie up. Despite bearing a familiarity with his role here, Renner managed to perform on the same level as Arrival's leading lady.

Man, it is very fortunate that Forest Whitaker is getting much better roles in movies like this one and in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and in upcoming flicks such as Black Panther, compared to his previous "below-the-radar" projects. Whitaker is a phenomenal actor, as evidenced by his ability to either deliver a commanding presence or a sentimental side on-screen, and he truly deserves much more recognition and better films, unlike, shall we say, TAK3N? (Boy, that movie was terrible.) In Arrival, despite having a relatively and reasonably small amount of screen time, Whitaker is able to bring the tough, no non-sense Colonel G.T. Weber to life with exceptional strength and grace.

For our last main cast member, we have Michael Stuhlbarg's Agent David Halpern. Wow, Stuhlbarg is everywhere, from Men in Black 3, Steve Jobs, Trumbo, to Doctor Strange, and despite being placed in secondary roles in almost all of his films, he somehow manages to be a fairly noticeable presence in all of them, especially in the third Men in Black movie, wherein he played as Griffin, the alien who has the power to see various future probabilities. Honestly, there is not much to say or is worth noting with regards to his role in Arrival, aside from the fact that it is pretty much exactly the same old, same old "authority figure foil" cliche. Stuhlbarg gives his best though. Also, is it me, or from a certain angle, he looks somewhat like Joaquin Phoenix?

Direction and Quality = (5/5)

From here on, this section will now be called "Direction and Quality", because having "Production Value and Cinematography" as the name for this segment make it seem that we are after for the most expensive pieces of cinema, and only focusing on the way the imagery was taken, despite the fact that we have included a film's music in this category. Fun fact, when I first used the label of "Production Value and Cinematography" on one of our earlier play reviews, I did not really understood the definition of the word "cinematography", until some time ago when I decided to look at the dictionary, and I only decided to change it now because I felt it would make it much more organized, if you know what I am saying. Oh, silly me.

When you hear the words "alien" and "movie" in the exact same sentence, you are bound to expect some of the most mind-blowing special effects your eyes have ever laid upon. Well, we do not get to see a visual spectacle of an intergalactic scale, as I have said before, this movie tackles the whole concept of a first contact between aliens and humans to a cerebral level. However, I can say that, as simple as the designs of the "Heptapods", the name of the featured aliens in the flick, as well as their shell-shaped vessels, the film's visual effects are very well done, and they make for an eye-catching experience. I actually love the square-shaped, voided interior design of the ships, as it really reflects the film's atmosphere of intrigue, suspense and mystery, and the animation done for the Heptapods' inscriptions were splendid and clearly polished.

One of the best scenes, arguably, is the part wherein one of the panicking soldiers, Captain Marks, played by Mark O' Brien (Republic of Doyle), who, after hearing about the Heptapods "offering a weapon", organizes a mutiny and bombs a Heptapod ship while both Banks and Donnelly were aboard it. The tight pacing and execution, which is also featured in the film's climactic scene, which will be talked about more later on by the second to the last segment of this review, makes this as some of the most suspenseful sequences in movies I have ever seen!

But do you want to know what I really love about the movie, aside from the masterpiece of a plot the film featured? It is Jóhann Jóhannson's atmospheric and spine-tingling score that really sets the mood for a piece of cinema that is just as gripping and innovative as this one. Not only does it properly amplify the scientific mood of the flick, it also feels a more-or-less tribute to all melodic marvels in the world of movies.

Story, Dialogue and Flow = (5/5)

As we have said before in the Suicide Squad movie review, we tend to place much more emphasis on the plot, rather than the computer-generated imagery or anything of that like, including the cinematography, although it does factor on our overall evaluation if the way the movie is executed is terrible or passable. And as we have mentioned over and over again, Arrival offers so much more than just the typical alien invasion story. Imagine the story of Arrival as it is, a story about humanity's first contact with the extraterrestrial, and factor out the usual servings of crazed, genocidal beings, and its place, make use of actually peaceful ones, similar to the ones shown in Contact. In addition, wrap it all up with a nice tint of emotional intrigue, and the end result is more than satisfying.

Needless to say, this section will be riddled with a lot of major spoilers.

The whole idea of a first contact between humans and aliens causing worldwide mass hysteria is already as worn-out as all the other alien movies out there, as once again, we get to have the following cliches. 1.) A scientist protagonist, 2.) the armed forces of the United States of America, and 3.) aliens, obviously. However, the movie places a strong emphasis on Louise Banks' character, completely fleshing-out her character. From her personal background to her distinct charm, Banks is one character to root for.

Aside from the relatable main character, the film's exploration of the contemporary theme of destiny, complete with allegories to pressing modern day concerns such as racism and the language barrier, surprisingly made Arrival all the more thought-provoking and timely. In this world of ours that is filled with racial discrimination, be it physical or cultural, in the local environment or even at the political arena, those who have suffered for speaking a different tongue, similar to the Heptapods who are only aiming to help, will find this movie powerfully timely.

I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I do appreciate the film's superfluous attempts at pitch perfect scientific accuracy. Not that it is important to have a grounded take on science in every movie, but the effort done to make a nearly factual storyline, despite being a work of fiction, is extremely commendable.

Ending, Originality and Story Fulfillment = (4/5)

And now we have come to that section in our movie reviews were in we dissect the endings, but before anything else, we have to see if we have encountered any of the usual tropes. After all, this segment would not be called "Ending, Originality and Story Fulfillment" if we did not mention any of the movie-breaking cliches. Well, "movie breaking" is a strong phrase, so I guess "movie disturbing", I guess? Sigh.

Aside from the previously mentioned ones, the movie tends to be a little bit predictable, especially in the part wherein the soldiers start their mutiny. Of course it is bound to happen that some humans cannot keep it together in the midst of everything falling into place. There is not much other cliches, actually, although the ending might be predictable from a certain angle, specifically once the deus ex machina of the film, which is the alien's psychic language that Louise Banks was able to decipher, kicks in to high gear.

With that, we finally get to the ending, wherein a sudden case of miscommunication with the Heptapods' usage of the word "weapon" results in all of the nations of the world pursuing the truth in their own ways, with China, lead by General Shang, played by Tzi Ma (Rush Hour) and Russia specifically pointing their guns at the Heptapods. After a clash with some of their own soldiers, the United States government finally decided to pull the plug on their intergalactic diplomacy mission, but Banks is convinced that the Heptapods mean something else, and with some help from Donolly, Banks gets to Abbott and Costello's ship (Donolly named them after the comedic pair, which is hilarious, especially for movie buffs), and now here is where the movie really hits a stride.

Remember when we said that Banks lost a daughter at the start of the movie? Apparently, the movie sucker punches us with the shocking revelation that all of the flashbacks were not even really "flashbacks", but glimpses into the future that are seen thanks to the Heptapods' language, meaning that she is still yet to conceive a child, and the events mentioned are yet to happen. It is a truly monumental plot twist that I, nor Dad, saw coming, and it is one that we will surely remember for many years to come!

But by the time Banks realizes the true power of the language, she makes use of it to convince General Shang to stand down. How? By reciting his dead wife's last words? Okay, okay, I am not saying that this ruined the movie, because it most certainly did not, but it felt as if it was out of the blue.

Once the end of the world was aborted, and the world is at peace once more, Donolly then tells Banks that he loves her, which reveals that he will be the father of Banks' daughter, and, as it was hinted earlier on, will leave them after Banks refused to acknowledge that their own child was going to die before even reaching the stage of adulthood. At the moment, you will stand staring at the screen in awe upon realizing that Banks still accepted the future no matter what, without even doing anything to change it. Never has a movie left me completely breathless, except maybe for a couple of exceptions.

In the end, Arrival is a seriously mind-boggling think-piece that earns its spot in our hearts! It is phenomenal beyond all levels!

Overall Evaluation = (5/5)

With top-notch performances from its leads, a confident direction at its helm, and an unconventional story for science-fiction aficionados, this film is a huge recommendation, and it really deserves its Best Picture nomination.

TOTAL = 24/25 (Awesome!)

While the third act may feel a tad bit anticlimactic for some viewers, Arrival nevertheless hits the spot by offering intelligent storytelling over costly action sequences, with a stellar cast and impressive camerawork to boot!

Well, our movie reviews are getting shorter and shorter by the post. I guess you could say I learned to keep things balanced. And with that comes the conclusion of our review of Arrival. Hey, did you know? Thanks to this movie, I could not shut-up about the word "palindrome" in our school. They did say that I might as well learn something from each movie, right? Anyway, stay tuned for yet another Oscar-nominated movie, namely about the Second World War. And speaking of war, a different kind of war between heroes and villains is coming to the DC Extended Universe with the upcoming Justice League movie. Check out the latest trailer below, and stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!

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