Arrival09 Nov 2016
One of my favorite things about Denis Villeneuve’s films, including Incendies, Sicario, and now Arrival are full, dynamic, strong female protagonists. In each film, Villeneuve puts his faith in a central character who is good at her job, but is weighed by heavy emotion. However, instead of the character crumbling under the weight of these emotions, or turning her attention entirely to her inner life, his protagonists always deal with both aspects - the inner lives, and the action - admirably. This is combined with great actors (Amy Adams and Emily Blunt are good, but Lubna Azabal is in a class her own) and beautiful cinematography that brings these characters to life.
The stakes in Arrival are less high than Incendies or Sicario, and the balance of the story (mostly true to Ted Chiang’s source material) tends toward the cosmic or the universal rather than the personal, but the film is still impactful. If I had to level and complaints, it would be about the pacing of the 2nd third of the film. It sags slightly and loses some of the momentum built in the first act. The third act, however, mostly makes up for this. The wonderful sound and set design also help.
The film has the added benefit of being based on great science fiction. Instead of relying on machismo (The Martian), grit (Mad Max: Fury Road), or mysticism (Midnight Special) for meaning, Chiang uses the wonders of rationalism and scientific inquiry to imbue meaning into his work. I find this sub-genre of sci-fi more compelling than its counterparts. What other writers are taking esoteric academic disciplines like linguistics and cognitive science to develop beautiful, rich, humanistic stories? And conveying enough technical detail to both bring along the reader/viewer but also not condescend to us.