Let’s talk about “Arrival”. Brought to you by one of my favorite working directors, Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”, “Sicario”), this sociopolitically fueled sci-fi flick might best be described at the “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” for millennials. Writer Eric Heisserer has cooked one of the most intelligent screenplays of the year, developed from Nebula Awarding-winning short Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. Like “Close Encounters”, and diametrically opposed in intellect to this year’s “Independence Day: Resurgence”, the story revolves around analysis and communication with aliens, while considering our tendency to attack things that we don’t understand. Here, linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) pair up to decode the language of squid-like aliens that have descended in twelve sleek, pill-shaped vessels across Earth. The orbs seem to break laws of planetary physics as they hover silently and motionless some 50 feet from the ground. Oft-Villeneuve collaborator Jóhann Jóhannsson’s ominous, pulsating score sets the tone as usual, here in anticipation of first contact. Making matters more urgent is Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), who, by instinct sees an imminent threat, ready to launch an offensive in conjunction with other world military leaders. So it’s up to Banks and Donnelly to make sense of a language that is presented in ink-like loops, sentences that have no beginning or end, immeasurably more complex than ours, from a race of creatures that do not think or exist in linear time. This is a sort of existential parallel to Banks’ past, which recounts in fragments her young daughter who died of a rare cancer. Although a timely allegory for xenophobia, which happens to depict but is not limited to the United States, “Arrival” unfurls on a much larger stage, that of the entire human race and our primal tendencies. On the surface complex tapestry, one that requires careful calculation rather than brute force, Villeneuve’s movie really boils down to two words: What if? Take from out what you will; the movie will leave you with plenty to think about, to a dizzying degree. DP Bradford Young (“Selma”) does beautiful things with distant shots: the landscapes, the craft looming in the air, the military camps, all seem to emphasize how little we are. We expect nothing less from Adams and Renner, who are both convincingly cerebral as they attempt to stop a self-fulfilling prophecy that will begin with weapons of mass destruction.
— M. Parsons