365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About


Arrival (2016)

Alien, Fire in the Sky,  Independence Day, Men in Black, Starship Troopers, Cloverfield, Signs, Prometheus. These are some of the many movies that have successfully explored contact in some form with extra-terrestrial beings in some form. And then you have movies like E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Cocoon, Contact, Solaris, District 9, Gravity, Interstellar, and The Martian that are also movies about either extra-terrestrial encounters or innovative space exploration that deal more with the human component or relationship building than they do action, adventure, and/or a post-apocalyptic future. Add Denis Villeneuve's (Sicario, Prisoners) Arrival as the latest movie to try to get itself on this impressive list. The critics (93% on Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences (82%) have both enjoyed this movie. I wouldn't say that I disliked this movie, but I don't have the same praise as many of these others. If you haven't seen Villeneuve's Sicario, please see this movie. It was one of the five best movies of 2015. I haven't met many people who have seen this movie and didn't like it. It's an incredible movie. I hoped Villeneuve could recapture that same success with this follow-up, but, ultimately, it was a movie that I found interest in, but one that was a little all over the place and not one that I could ultimately relate to or, to an extent, even understand its purpose.

Arrival is an ambitious movie and it has a lot of the right parts, including Villeneuve as well as a great cast that features Academy Award-winning actor (Forest Whitaker - The Last King of Scotland, The Crying Game) and two multiple Academy Award nominee actors (Amy Adams - American Hustle, The Fighter) and Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Town). Unfortunately, there's a little too much to this story and it takes many of the elements of the movies that I mentioned in the first paragraph of this review. It felt in a way that Villeneuve saw a lot of these movies and picked and chose his favorite parts of them that he wanted to include in his story. Couple this with an M. Night Shyamalan kind of twist at the end that some viewers will find rewarding and some viewers will say something like, "how convenient".

The best part about this movie is Amy Adams. It looks like she's already one of the five front-runners for an Academy Award nomination for Best Lead Actress. While I believe Natalie Portman (Jackie) is going to be nearly impossible to beat, I don't think that even if an off year, Adams's performance would be good enough for a win. While she is certainly due (she has five nominations as of 2015), this won't be the role that gets her the top prize. Even those who will enjoy this movie more than I did probably won't remember it this film that they would a movie like Gravity or Inception or even Interstellar or The Martian. I just don't think it has that kind of staying power because it doesn't offer much that is new like these previously mentioned movies do. With all of that said, Adams is what makes this movie work the most. Adams stars as Dr. Louise Banks, a university professor and linguistics expert who learn has lost a young daughter to a rare disease. We aren't told how long it's been from the time her daughter days until the present day, but we can assume it has been a decent amount of time. While none of us would ever fully recover from the death of a child, Louise seems to have had enough time to get her life back together. She is no longer married and we are led to believe that the death (or at least the illness) of the daughter took its toll on their relationship.

Twelve extraterrestrial spacecraft have entered the earth's atmosphere and are currently hovering over locations in 12 different countries from China to Russia to Africa. Adams is recruited by Colonel Weber (Whitaker) of the United States Army to use her linguistics skills to attempt to communicate with the aliens that are residing in a high-rise, pill-shaped stone structure that is hovering some 10-20 feet above the ground on a plain in Montana. Here Louise and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Renner) are introduced to a cast of characters that have made camp near the vessel. It's not really important who these other characters are because they all get lost in the shovel. What is important is that some like Louise and her approach and some have a very different strategy than trying to interpret the black cloud like symbols that are emitted and projected on a glass partition from the tentacles of two octopus creatures (named Abbott and Costello by Donnelly).

What is interesting is that while the Americans cannot even agree on the means to best deal with the spacecraft in its own country, there are 11 other countries that are trying to figure out what to do themselves. At first, there is communication between many of the countries and there is even a common plan of attack (basically non-violence), but as time passes and progress is not being made some of the countries begin to really do their own thing and some even stop communicating with the other countries entirely, preferring to keep their secrets to themselves. It could have really been interesting to learn more about the interactions in the other countries, but there really isn't enough time to tell that story. Instead, we can only focus on the story in America and learn secondhand about what is happening in the other countries.

Abbott and Costello each develop their own personalities and become an integral part of the storytelling. We begin to care about them almost as if each one was a loving animal or like the volleyball Wilson in Cast Away. Villeneuve does a good job with this because these characters never say a word nor do we ever see anything other than obscure images of them. But as enchanting as Villeneuve wants the story to be, there just isn't a lot of substance. The only human that has any sort of backstory is Louise. Louise is a character we care very much about. She's intelligent, but not arrogant. She confident, but unassuming. There are plenty of flashbacks that showcase the love for her daughter Hannah. But, unlike, Sandra Bullock's character in Gravity , Louise doesn't carry the grief of losing a child with her during every moment of every day. She is able to function. Life has gone on. But when one of the aliens puts its tentacle up to the class and Louise places her hand on the other side, she starts seeing visions of Hannah once again. She is obviously curious about how the aliens know about these images, but more importantly why they are sharing them with her. Trust is hard to gain with aliens, but it is easy to lose as the world tries to figure out why these aliens have arrived and what their purpose is now that they are here. While we do learn of their purpose, it just left me feeling unfulfilled.

There are holes in this movie, as there are with many movies involving alien presence on earth. I wouldn't go so far to say that this movie is as insanely implausible as sending a team of misfit oil rig workers into space with two weeks training to destroy a meteor that's going to destroy earth like in Armageddon, but this has similar issues. The plot involves dealing with aliens that nobody knows anything about, yet the spacecraft is being entered by a linguistics expert, a theoretical physicist, and two members of the military who want to abort each mission into the spacecraft if something doesn't go 100% as planned. While I don't think the reaction in America (or a lot of these countries) who instantly be one of combat, I'm not sure we'd be pulling out professors from their teaching gigs to lead the quest to try and communicate with these extra-terrestrials either. We also don't learn what's going on with the general population. You would think that if 12 spacecraft showed up across the globe that there would be mass hysteria. We learn that the U.S. has banned gun sales, but what about the hundreds of millions of guns that are already out there. We've seen that even the smallest of incidents have resulted in mass rioting in the past. Something like this would wreck our world, but we don't learn any of that.

Arrival is an average movie that is being praised as something much more than it is. Adams is great. The visuals are pretty good. I liked the music. The story was simple enough to follow, but there just wasn't anything new being offered from other similar type movies I've seen before. I am happy that this movie was not produced in 3-D because there wasn't a need. Nonetheless, Arrival is already being mentioned as an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture. I just don't see it. I'd avoid seeing this one on the theater and catching it on Redbox instead.

Plot 7/10
Character Development 7/10
Character Chemistry 6.5/10
Acting 7.5/10
Screenplay 7/10
Directing 7.5/10
Cinematography 8/10
Sound 8.5/10
Hook and Reel 8/10
Universal Relevance 7.5/10

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