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), “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.