arrival-posterArrival is very… cerebral. It’s about a linguist (Amy Adams) who is recruited by the military to help translate communications from aliens that have landed in Montana and 11 other sites around the world. The “action” (such as it were) all takes place in a basecamp set up in a field, and aboard a spaceship that resembles a giant egg or shell-shaped rock. The vessel opens itself up to visitors every 18 hours, and that’s when Dr. Louise Banks (Adams) and her colleague, sciencey guy Dr. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), try to figure out who the aliens are, and what they want. It’s like E.T. as a deep, psychological drama. Inception-esque, slow to unfold, mind-bendy. The type of movie that movie nerds will want to see multiple times. I found the movie interesting overall, but a tad boring in parts, especially in the middle. That’s probably because I figured out one of the big plot twists fairly on and was eager for validation. But hey, no spoilers. Here’s what I can tell you:

Arrival is adapted from a science fiction short story called “Story of Your Life” that won something called the Nebula Award for best novella in 2000 (fitting, considering the nebulous and abstract nature of this story). These alien creatures called Heptapods (shadowy blobs that look like octopi with seven legs) land on Earth with some sort of message for humanity. But they don’t speak English, or any other language known to (hu)man. So Dr. Banks must draw on her expertise on the structure of language to develop a concept paradigm that will allow here to chat with the blobs, nicknamed Abbott and Costello, before the clock ticks down on the use of deadly force against the aliens. At the same time, she’s visited by memories of her late daughter Hannah, interwoven throughout the film, often informing Dr. Banks as to her next move.

Arrival is directed by Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Enemy, Prisoners), no stranger to thrillers and psychological drama. It starts off quiet, and stays quiet, while building the tension and taxing the mind. If you like the likes of Inception, then you’ll probably like Arrival – a lot. It’s a very smart, well-crafted film. If you prefer a more traditional story, mindless escapism, action, or romance at the movies, you may want to pick something else, like Loving.

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