Arrival, like so many before, begs the question – how can, and will we react in the event an alien species makes contact.
From much-loved Star Trek: The Next Generation’s episodes First Contact and Darmok to the more recent feature Contact, the latter to which Director Denis Villeneuve owes no small debt, Arrival takes each classic’s greatest abstractions and transforms them into a feature-length, utterly compelling thriller.
Linguistics professor (Amy Adams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) are whisked off by the US military on the day 12 alien objects appear in seemingly random spots around the world. One towers above US farmland, hovering ever so slightly off the ground, with others making landfall in Siberia, Europe and Perth. Unable to discern their motive and absent any clear signal from what appears to be a fleet of ships, US military Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) sends the pair in to take a closer look.
If the ending to Contact or even Interstellar justly irked you, Arrival handles identical material and themes much more deftly – the singular human relationships in the film evidently consequential to the outcome but never so much the crux or focus of the picture that it lends itself to oversentimentality. Adams, with Nocturnal Animals opening on the same day, has now more than ever solidified her status as an A-lister and leading star, ably carrying the moving final twist, a twist that many will see coming later in the piece which nevertheless loses none of its impact when eventually deployed.
Not all dark and serious, recurring outings into the objects occasionally proffer a little bit of levity, while a surprising amount of Australian content will bear well with local audiences.
The much anticipated penultimate sequence, if captivating, is regretfully delivered too explicitly in a film otherwise reliant on more oblique high-concept sci-fi which could have taken stock from a very memorable first contact scene in Prometheus, an otherwise less-engaging picture that better-handled aspects of that hugely consequential interaction.
Unlike similar outings of late and focusing more intently on a somewhat more well thought out enactment of first contact realpolitik as various countries scramble to implement a uniform response, the disclosure of the ultimate rationale underpinning the whole thing, if not unfamiliar, is still endearing for the largely skilful way the film’s grand thematic overtures are managed. The use of linguistics to navigate the uncertainty plays exceptionally well, while more than one perhaps unintentional if markedly distinct allusion to the aforementioned Darmok will no doubt please avid Star Trek fans.
A success not just for Adams, Arrival is a first contact flick that will niggle at your mind well after you’ve seen it.
Arrival is in cinemas from Thursday November 10