by Joe Hammerschmidt
French-Canadian auteur Denis Villeneuve’s style has always struck me as quiet, reserved and a little eccentric. Arrival, his third major studio film expresses all three qualities and wraps it in a neat little bow, leaving you to wonder how close to the concepts of Close Encounters they could take it without turning into a direct carbon copy. Luckily, given that the plot takes its time to build on itself, this film stays grounded enough in its own originality that it physically can’t come too close. Amy Adams mints another sterling performance in the determinate lead of Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist with a broken past, dealing with both a divorce and losing her only child to a debilitating form of cancer. US military enlists her to assist in translating codes and signals emitted by a mysterious group of aliens just landed in Montana, one of several having touched down globally, in craft made to look like oblique MC Escher designs. With the aid of physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and a team of fellow scientists, they will work to decode the messages presented by the cephalopoloid aliens, at the risk of their careers, lives, and potential global war. For Villeneuve, he is at his most comfortable, taking the sci-fi genre and flipping it upside down, similar to his approaches to the psych thriller (Prisoners) and drug bust drama (Sicario), then placing it in a slow-cooking crock pot to bring out the character insecurity. With Adams, that was her seeking closure with the loss of her one kid; Renner, keeping his bosses and Dr. Banks happy on separate measures (he really didn’t have much to do opposite Adams). Combine their efforts together, and the result is melodrama tragic, with a small twist of extra-terrestrial antics, slow in its pacing, yet still an ethereal cinematic dreamscape, the likes of whom had found hard to come by this year. Expect to walk out of the auditorium with many more questions than answers, and a heightened sense of purpose in multi-dimensional communication. And again, be advised to pack your patience; it takes a little time to build. (B+)
Arrival is rated PG-13 for brief strong language, most area theaters. 116 mins.