Arrival – film review

"Arrival" 2016 theatrical teaser poster.
“Arrival” 2016 theatrical teaser poster.

Based on the novella “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, Arrival tells the story of a reserved, gifted linguistics professor, Louise Banks (Amy Adams). She is thrust into an unwanted but pivotal role when Earth is suddenly visited—or perhaps invaded?—by 12 alien spacecraft.

Working as a consultant to an international investigative team, Louise must fight her visceral terror of the squid-like aliens just to begin the work of deciphering their esoteric circular written language. After days of operating on a grueling schedule with too little sleep, things begin to get to her.

Another member of the team, theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), asks Louise if she’s begun to dream in the alien language. She replies that she hasn’t. However, Louise has begun to recall unsettling memories—weirdly apropos of her current circumstances—of her daughter Hannah, who died young of a rare cancer.

Meanwhile, other investigative teams around the world have begun to question the motives not only of the aliens, but of the leaders of other nations. This causes the collaborative investigation to begin to quickly erode under the strain of paranoia.

While the plot summary might suggest that Arrival is an action adventure, the film is far from that. The story is surprisingly evocative and subtle. Films of this nature are most effective when supported by solid writing and superlative acting. Fortunately, Arrival has both. The casting of Adams and Renner is nothing short of inspired, as is the casting of Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber and Tzi Ma as Chinese General Shang.

There is a twist in the tale, but this isn’t an M. Night Shyamalan movie. Everything you need to know is laid out before you. There’s little attempt to deceive or obscure, but you’ll nonetheless find yourself wanting to watch the movie again immediately to pick up on the details you missed the first time around.The PG-13 rating is appropriate, as most teenagers can grasp the subtleties of the plot and handle the occasional violence and profanity.

If you haven’t seen Arrival, I strongly suggest that you do so. Chiang’s novella is adapted and simplified by Eric Heisserer and sensitively directed by Denis Villeneuve. It receives the kind of respectful treatment too few science fiction stories enjoy on the big screen. It’s beautifully shot and acted, and the story keeps you thinking about it for weeks.

Release Date: November 11, 2016 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Original Title: Story of Your Life
Language: English

MySF Rating: Five point zero stars
Family Friendliness: 70%


Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (casual drinking)
Language: 2 (F-word as expression of surprise)
Nudity: 0
Sexuality: 1 (brief kissing, one character asks another “Do you want to make a baby?”)
Violence: 2 (public disorder brought on by panic, explosion, threat of military force, death of characters)

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