When two groups, completely unfamiliar with each other, meet for the first time communication is the first priority.  To react to a situation intelligently, authorities must know as much about it as possible.  That’s difficult enough when the other party speaks a language that is known, but when they are aliens who communicate in ways completely disconnected from our own linguistic traditions, it may seem like an impossible task.

In Arrival, we have such a situation.  The aliens arrive one day in twelve ships that hover over various locations in twelve different countries on the planet.  All attempts at communication with the enigmatic aliens fail.  The varying countries involved, which include China, Russia and Pakistan, can barely communicate clearly with each other.  The US, in the person of Colonel Weber, played by Forest Whitaker, recruits linguist Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, to try and understand what the aliens want.  Also on the team is physicist Ian Donnelly, played by Jeremy Renner.  Their relationship is rocky at first, but soon they begin working well together.

There’s not much more I can tell you about the plot without spoiling it.  The whole theme and really the plot of the film depends on a twist at the end, and you have to pay attention to get it.  This is not a Michael Bay film where everything is spoon fed to you.

I will also warn you that the pace of this film is very stately, very European.  In the showing I went to someone actually started snoring.  And if you consider that it is being advertised as an SF thriller there are going to be a lot of disappointed moviegoers walking out of the theater at the end, assuming they make it that far.

Arrival is a dark film.  All the exterior scenes take place under overcast skies and the interiors are in dark rooms lit solely by desk lamps or dim fluorescent lighting.  This matches the performances which are muted and subtle.  Amy Adams is terrific as always as an academic unsure of herself in every aspect of her life except for her when she’s doing her job.  Jeremy Renner portrays an intelligent man, a hotshot academic, who’s been humbled in the past.  He’s still way too sure of himself but is a little more open-minded.  Forest Whitaker isn’t given much to do here, but he’s always great.

Oftentimes, the best I can say about these “serious” science fiction films is that they approach intelligence.  I think Arrival actually achieves it.  But does it appeal too much to the head and not the heart?  There is an emotional core to the film but it is muted like everything else and it feels like it’s behind a barrier.  You can see it but you can’t feel it.

Arrival is a pretty enough film that you might want to consider seeing it in a theater.  But know that it is not like the previews.  Ironically, they don’t do a very good job of communicating what the film is like.


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