ARRIVAL review by Mark Walters – Amy Adams & Jeremy Renner make first contact with aliens

ARRIVAL review by Mark Walters – Amy Adams & Jeremy Renner make first contact with aliens


The idea of aliens landing on Earth has been explored countless times in film, usually in the form of a movie about outer space creatures attacking our planet. ARRIVAL takes a much more cerebral and grounded approach, focusing more on how we as humans would communicate with interplanetary visitors, and the global effect their presence would have. It’s easily one of the smartest Sci-Fi movies to come along in years, which means it’s also bound to disappoint certain moviegoers.

Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a professor who teaches the finer points of language. When alien spacecrafts touch down all over the world, her classroom ends up empty, but it isn’t long before the U.S. military comes calling on her to help communicate with the visitors. She insists on doing things on site, but Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) isn’t going for it. Eventually he finds himself with no choice, and brings Banks to the American site of the craft in Montana. Joined by a scientist named Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Louise jumps right in to meet with the creatures. The process is slow but increasingly effective, though the team find themselves up against a world clock as other foreign leaders are leaning toward a much harsher resolve. Banks must find a way to communicate and learn the true motives of the aliens before drastic measures are taken by other countries.


If you love ‘aliens coming to Earth’ movies like INDEPENDENCE DAY or BATTLE: LA, this may not be your cup of tea, but ARRIVAL is definitely one of the smarter and more insightful pieces of Science Fiction to hit theaters in a while. Comparisons to CONTACT are fair, though I’d almost say CONTACT is more exciting in its presentation. Director Denis Villeneuve keeps the execution of this story somber and methodical, never falling into the traps of Hollywood-esque forced intensity. Make no mistake, there’s some tense scenes to be sure, but it’s a quiet production and effective when it needs to be. Amy Adams plays Dr. Banks as a confident yet concerned woman. She feels the weight of the responsibility she’s tasked with, but also wants to do things on her own terms. It’s another in a series of strong female characters we’re (thankfully) seeing in recent cinema. Jeremy Renner is a solid companion for our heroine, delivering some of the more lighthearted and joke-y dialogue when needed. I wouldn’t necessarily call him a comic relief, but he adds levity at times during an otherwise serious narrative. Forest Whitaker adds gravitas as the military leader who recruits Banks, but doesn’t have just a whole lot to do afterward. Michael Stuhlbarg plays Agent Halpern, an on site leader who feels more like Whitaker’s role got split in two. I like Stuhlbarg, but even when he steps up and starts to do things late in the story, he just never feels like a necessary character.

One of the coolest aspects of the movie is the creature design for the aliens, which are carefully never revealed in full until the final moments, but are quite interesting and haunting in their presentation. Their method of communication is interesting too. There’s a great scientific quality to the method in which the alien language is interpreted, giving the production a much more realistic feel. I never doubted the concept of how the language was shown, and it actually seems quite smart the more you think about it. Villeneuve is also careful about how much he shows with certain character scenes, keeping a certain ambiguity in the story, even with what seems like some of the more obvious moments. The ultimate conclusion, which will absolutely confuse some folks, is rather personal and touching. Again, this is not in any way a traditional alien attack film, but rather a smart and layered look at how this kind of experience might play out.

ARRIVAL will absolutely polarize audiences, and even at the screening I was at there were people who frustratingly needed the ending to be explained to them. What I like most about these kinds of films is that they’re easy to discuss at length, the kind of cinema you and your friends can talk about and dissect, perhaps each drawing their own unique conclusions. In that sense it’s a brilliant movie, but sometimes that can be the very reason others will hate it. Some of the best Sci-Fi comes in the form of more cerebral and ambiguous fare, like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. If that’s the kind of alien story you like, chances are you’ll love ARRIVAL.

ARRIVAL opens November 11, 2016

Be Sociable, Share!

About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.