Arrival – movie review

It’s rare that I go to a movie and think about it the next day and then the day after that–most box office material doesn’t demand that level of engagement. Arrival did, and I’m ever so grateful to be intrigued.

Arrival movie poster

I know there was some grumbling about the authenticity of the linguistic methods used to decode the alien communications. I don’t know enough to weigh in, but the story did make me think about the minimal linguistics I took in university and how very unprepared I would be should heptapod aliens invade and the translation app on my iPhone fail to provide adequate interpretation.  Great science fiction asks these questions.

So what specifically did I like about Arrival? The characters. It’s great to see such a meaty female lead role in a sci-fi film, and to see it so well done. Amy Adams handles the many layers of her character beautifully, coming across as deeply ordinary and exceptional at once. Jeremy Renner is endearing. Both have an air of vulnerability and honesty that gave the storytelling weight. Without giving too much away, everything in the movie–the close camera work, the acting, the way the story is put together–draws the viewer into an enormously intimate relationship with the protagonists and their fates.

This is sci-fi, and there is the odd explosion and nifty effects, but this isn’t a movie for those looking for ray guns and a high body count. It’s the kind that makes you go “Waaaaaiiit just a minute” as the penny drops and everything changes.

What did I not like about Arrival? There were a couple of moments when the characters seemed unobservant one moment and capable of superhuman leaps of logic the next, but given everything the film got right, these were small issues.

The story is based on a piece of short fiction by Ted Chiang. I haven’t read it (yet), but going by the fact that the structure of the movie held together, the adaptation was well done.

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