Telluride Review: ‘Arrival’ is a Game Changer for Villeneuve

Gotham Awards

2016 TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL: Based on Ted Chiang’s short story, “Story of Your Life,” director Denis Villeneuve delivers “Arrival,” a sci-fi thriller that lives up to the expectations that audiences have grown accustomed to from the 38-year-old Canadian auteur. Villeneueve’s previous work includes Foreign Language Film nominee “Incendies” (2010),arrivalposter “Prisoners” (2013) and “Sicario” (2015). The latter two films brought legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins his 11th and 13th nominations. Villeneuve continues to work with outstanding DPs, as Bradford Young (“A Most Violent Year,” “Selma”) steps behind the camera this time around.

When several mysterious alien crafts land across the Earth, expert linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is tasked with breaking down the language barrier between their species and ours, in hopes of avoiding an all-out global war. Teamed with theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), the group enters one of 12 spacecrafts that have settled a few yards above the ground. The craft – given the nickname “the shell” – bears a half-egg shape, opens its pod bay doors once every 18 hours to allow human entry, and is occupied by two heptopods – affectionately referred to as Abbott and Costello. As Banks works to uncover the mystery behind their written language, she is haunted by dreams and visions of her deceased daughter. As the mystery surrounding the purpose for the arrival unfolds, Banks and Donnelly labor against time to determine whether they are here to help or to attack, as the rest of the world hinges on the brink of war.

“Arrival” is a true game changer. It is a deeply profound and hypnotically enigmatic tale, and it will require multiple viewings to peel through all of the layers that Villeneuve has laid before us. The pace is measured and effective, as the director’s world-building is extremely meticulous and thorough. The film unfolds in a marvelously nonlinear fashion, reminiscent of Nolan’s “Interstellar” or “Inception,” and provokes theorizing and speculating well after the final credits roll.

I am blown away by “Arrival.” It’s the type of film that drives my passion for film. And while it does that for me, I am certainly aware that it will not work the same for everyone else. Is it Academy fodder? Certainly not. But not every movie needs to be, and “Arrival never seems to try and be that kind of film. It has its own identity. And it is as beautiful as the starlit skies of Telluride.

“Arrival” is distributed by Paramount Pictures. The film played at Venice Sept. 1 and will show again at Toronto International Film Festival next week. “Arrival” is scheduled for a Nov. 11 release.

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About Mark Johnson

Lover of all things film and Oscar. Fantasy sports’ equivalent of George Steinbrenner. Your very own Han Solo, making friends all over the movie-loving galaxy in spite of himself. When he’s not ranking just about everything or dominating boardgames, Mark is breaking down the Oscar race 24/7 with Rain Man-like stats and knowledge. In his downtime, you can find him commiserating with other Northeast Ohio sports fans because a hero isn’t complete without a little heartbreak. If Lost, Homeland, Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Survivor are your style, then congratulations, you have something in common with this inglourious basterd.
  • Tee

    I was not at all excited about this film, but now I am.

    • Let me know what you think when you see it! Hopefully I didn’t overhype it.

  • Greg

    What do you think of Amy Adams?

  • CELKali

    I wrote my own little review for this, and I focused a bit on the screenplay and the score. Especially the score. I couldn’t believe just how bleak and atmospheric it was compared to traditional modern scores of scifis. It was reminiscent of Ligetti in Space Odyssey, and Zimmer in Intersteller (itself having many, many references to the soundtrack/score to Space Odyssey), but was still something else entirely. I still can’t place it.

    I felt like the movie wouldn’t have been as good had it been anything but that atmospheric sound of synth and nonsensical vowels. That moment when they first go into the ship, and the score just quietly builds, softens, builds, softens and suddenly bursting into life when.. you know when. It gave me goosebumps. It’s the 5th track. If you listen to it, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Not to mention the unsettling sound of the first track. Makes my skin crawl.
    And the use of Max Richter’s On The Nature of Daylight. It was different compared to Johansson’s score, but not so much that it took you out of the scenes it was used in.

    And what I liked about the script was… well, I can’t exactly say, except it was the embodiment of Show Don’t Tell.

    Suffice to say, I agree with your review 100%, and am practically begging people to go and see this movie, if only to tell the big studios this is the sort of content we want to see.

  • Tee

    I’m about a month late, but you said to let you know how I felt- it is currently the best film of 2016 for me at the time of writing.