“See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.”
I decided a few months ago to take a significant break from writing reviews. The landscape of cinema was breathtakingly bad, and I didn’t want to exert a lot of energy writing disparaging words about a medium I love. There have been bright spots though. Hell or High Water was an excellent film and will undoubtedly be on my top ten list. Kubo and the Two Strings was such a beautiful story, and Deepwater Horizon was a delightful surprise. But nothing stoked my writing flames. Then Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival sent me into an emotional tailspin.
When mysterious spacecrafts touch down across the globe, expert linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is brought in to help facilitate communication between species. Amy Adams is joined by Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. The trio make up the core of this film, but Adams is clearly the focal point. Adams is absolutely transcendent as Louise. She is a terrific character that is tough, sensitive, and smart. In a strange twist of fate, the male characters are afterthoughts, and Louise is the pillar that props this film up. Amy Adams’s performance is one that will stick with me for a long time.
The supporting cast is sufficient, but it’s not really about them. Denis Villeneuve’s direction is remarkable. He has an eye for tension and is a master at composing a film. Villeneuve’s shot selection and camera work are on par with the best in Hollywood. His films are always cast perfectly. Even behind the scenes, his accumulation of talent is unbelievable. Cinematographer, composer, set design, and the list goes on. But the most outstanding part of his filmmaking is the subtle editing. Arrival is the best edited film I’ve seen all year. Without great editing, a story as complex and emotional as this can’t be clearly told.
While I think this film is almost perfect, it does have a few flaws. Even though we are immersed in the world of Louise, we get little to no insight into how she has overcome the problems of her past. Every other character besides her is very underdeveloped, and this is especially problematic for Jeremy Renner’s character Ian Donnelly. This character should matter and feel like a huge role, but Renner isn’t given much to work with. Unfortunately, none of the side characters are.
The truth is the lack of side character development doesn’t matter because of the talent behind the camera and the dazzling performance by Adams. The film’s central conceit about solving the mystery of an unknown language to prevent a war isn’t unique. The way it is executed is. Arrival is more about humans than it is about aliens, and that’s why this film hits so hard. Denis Villeneuve’s style and mastery are perfect for relaying this message of hope and patience. It’s been a long time since I left a film with eyes full of tears and heart full of joy.