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Arrival (2016) ****

Arrival (2016) ****

Directed by Denis Villeneuve to a screenplay by Eric Heisserer, Arrival is based on a short story titled "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang. This contemporary Sci-Fi film stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Tzi Ma.
Arrival begins on an emotional note that quickly turns into a thriller. It holds our attention with anticipation and sympathy to the main character, Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist, played by Amy Adams. Yet, once we, the audience, through the eyes of Louise are exposed to the aliens, the film changes some of its pace. It becomes more of a scientific riddle than a thriller. And while the tension is kept through other means (not disclosed here as to avoid plot-spoilers,) the audience is expected to shift gear and play along. That only partially works.
Here is what I liked about Arrival. It is more sophisticated than your run of the mill Sci-Fi trash Hollywood had been dumping at us of late. There are interesting philosophical questions behind the story and thoughtful characters, well, at least in some of them; the supporting cast is not well-developed. The visuals are stunning as is the photography. Excellent editing and good music. The ambience feels very real, including fear of the aliens reflecting anything that is different. That is, unfortunately, something the USA happens to experience these post-elections days. Some of the concepts, especially of how peculiar may the language aliens may communicate through, are mind-boggling. The interlacing of time and the drama of the individual (Louise,) with the bigger picture of humanity, is yet another example for how this story stands apart from previous classics of this genre including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Interstellar and Contact.
What did not work for me in Arrival includes an ending that felt rushed and somewhat contrived. While the film as a whole, felt a little too long; the pace could have been better in the first three quarters, the last part was not as well-composed. Furthermore, the direction of the characters, and especially of Amy Adams was uneven. Although her performance yielded may praises, I felt she was a little too inconsistent – shifting from plain terror to risking her life, hopping into the unknown. One too many times you would hear her mumbling “I don’t understand” as she works her way through the puzzle of communication. While a capable actress, it felt like the direction she received was a somewhat misguided. All in all, Arrival is an intriguing film. Those who appreciate thoughtfulness will likely sing its praises while others may raise an eyebrow.

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