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Science fiction movies have had somewhat of a rebirth of sorts over the past few years. I’m not talking about Star Wars long-awaited sequels, prequels or spin-offs. I’m not even speaking of complete franchise reboots such as Star Trek. What we’re seeing these days is more of an intellectual movement. I’m referring to movies like Edge of Tomorrow (2014) and Interstellar (2014). Just mindlessly enjoying the special effects isn’t quite enough for these features. To get maximum enjoyment you’ll be required to put some real thought into what’s going on in front of you. Depending on your mental commitment to such movies will greatly affect your level of enjoyment of today’s movie, Arrival.

Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a university professor as well as one of the world’s most renowned linguists. Her expertise is called upon by the government when, out of nowhere, a strange object appears in the sky and just hovers silently. No one knows how it got here, where it came from and, more importantly, what it wants. A military team lead by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) does not want to be caught off guard so he has his troops at the ready. In addition to that, he’s tasks with finding answers. That’s where Dr. Banks comes into play. In addition to adding her to the team, Colonel Weber also brings in another great mind in Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to help investigate this great mystery. Given the fact that there are eleven other identical objects scattered around the world, whatever is happening is on a global scale.

Denis Villeneuve (Enemy (2013), Prisoners (2013), Sicario (2015)) is known for white-knuckled well-written thrillers. The obvious hope here is that his style translates well to the sci-fi genre. Arrival is his very first attempt at this particular genre and it becomes evident that he has his own ideas on how such a story should be told. The feel of the film is more of an artistic style which in certain ways reminded me of Ex Machina (2015). The visuals are very impressive at times but the bulk of what is seen is up close and personal. Think giant faces on screen. The plot is definitely where his focus lies so it’s all about effective storytelling. In that light, Villeneuve got it right. Things unfold nicely, only shedding light on areas that need to be visible at that time. This technique does two things. It keeps the audiences focused on what is happening in front of them. It also keeps other aspects hidden until their proper revelation time.

Since the plot itself plays heavily into what’s on, having actors that can pull off the emotional connections is an unconditional must-have. Amy Adams (Big Eyes (2014)) can hold her own which has proven soundly on more than one occasion. She is once again at the top of her game here as someone who is passionate about their work. She has good chemistry with her costar, Jeremy Renner (Kill the Messenger (2014)), which shouldn’t be all that surprising when taking into consideration the fact that two had worked together not too long ago in American Hustle (2013). Forest Whitaker (Southpaw (2015)) is always a solid addition, especially when it comes to playing roles where he is a superior. For some reason he excels at being the wise authoritative one. Each actor stayed in his or her lane and gave steady, enjoyable performances.

As for the tempo, style and story itself, Arrival is yet another of those that can easily be seen completely different from someone else’s perspective. While critics seem to be falling in love with this one, at least initially, I have a feeling that many fans won’t share the same sentiment. Mostly it’s going to come down to what you want to get out of this type of movie. What you think you’re getting in the beginning may end up being quite different than what you end up with in the end. Those that can keep an open mind and allow themselves to be swept up in the story’s currents will have a much better overall experience. If you can stay away from watching the previews or reading the little five-word blurbs they attach to them, you might even like this more. I’m not a fan of advertising that mentions specifically what makes a movie or show different or stand out. That’s why I stay away from specifics when I write.

Seeing Arrival isn’t an absolute necessity for die hard sci-fi fans, but is one that should be seriously considered, especially if you’re a fan the less straightforward type of movie. I should also mention that just because it’s sci-fi, that doesn’t mean that it’s full of unbelievable situations. For this type of movie, it’s pretty grounded. Also don’t expect action,explosions and fight sequences throughout because this isn’t that type of movie. If that’s what you’re hoping for, do yourself a favor and steer far, far away from this one. Patience will be key in any long term success that Arrival may see.

Arrival is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: Carl Wheeler

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