Oscar Review: Arrival

Leading up to the Oscars, I’ll be revisiting and reviewing all the Best Picture nominees. I’ll assess them on their own before bringing all the nominees together and breaking down which is truly worthy of the golden statue.

Today’s review is the drama about humanities first contact with an alien race, Arrival.


Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forrest Whittaker

Plot: When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors.

It’s still hard for some to wrap their heads around the fact that an alien invasion film is nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. However, before I saw a single frame, I knew this was going to offer a little more than the genre’s usual fare, based solely on the talents of Denis Villeneuve. Indeed, this is a more thoughtful and (dare I say) realistic look at such an event, but it’s still surprising the level of depths this film explores.

What becomes clear quite quickly is that Arrival is a smart film. The ideas this film brings up are so unique and cool, from the conception of the aliens, to the space ship and its atmosphere, and especially in its exploration of the extraterrestrial language. Villeneuve, like in his other works, is slow with his reveal, drawing audiences in with a deliberate pace and submerging them into the effective tone of the film. The first half of film hinges on the methodical exploration into how these alien creatures communicate. Despite the slow pace, the experience is so engrossing. However, to paraphrase one astute reviewer’s thoughts on the film, it draws you in with its rather impressive brain only to then reveal it’s strong, hidden heart. The slow and stunning reveal for what the film has been building to is a real knockout moment and Villeneuve handles these moments with such beauty.

The movie is gorgeous to look at and if you wonder why an alien spaceship would and in Montana, it will become abundantly clear when you see how Villeneuve shoots the stunning scenery. A lot of the success of the film is due to Villeneive who brings out a lot of beauty as the complicated script unfolds itself, but special attention must be given to Amy Adams. Her performance is not showy but the fact that she always makes us believe in every moment she’s in no matter how big and otherworldly it seems. The movie would fall apart without her authentic performance. The rest of the cast is fine and help add to the realism the film tries to convey, but this is Adams’ show.

As much as I was affected by the film and the experience, I must say that how it all came together wasn’t wholly satisfying. I feel as though they put so much into the admittedly effective “twist” that it abandons the mystery the movie has been exploring from the beginning. The third act is at once so compelling and a bit of a disappointment. However, despite the fact that it doesn’t all come together in the way I was hoping for, I still very much enjoyed and appreciated the experience. It’s also a oddly topical film and its message about communication and unity is more moving because of the current world climate we find ourselves in.

We don’t get too many films like Arrival, and even total and perfect success, the moving journey of the film is undeniably fascinating, held up to another level by an amazing central performance and truly talented director.


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