Arrival (USA, 2016)

20161020171048arrival_movie_posterDirected by: Denis Villeneuve. This was one of the most talked-about movies of last year, and I really wish I’d seen it last year, but at least I saw it ahead of the awards season curve. Now that I’ve seen it, I’m not sure if I think anyone needs an award out of this or not…I guess so? I’ve seen this, but I haven’t seen most of the other movies to compare. So basically, this movie is a very good movie, but not a great movie I don’t think, and even now, with the glow of just-seeing-it starting to fade, it’s probably destined to just be a good movie. In the realm of sci-fi first-contact movies, this a good movie! I wouldn’t go out of my way to avoid it, but unless you’re devoted to the (sub)genre, or devoted to the filmographies of Denis Villeneuve or Amy Adams, I don’t know if I consider this a must-see in a way that I was pretty adamant that everyone who’s interested in movies should check out Moonlight. All of that said, this was definitely better than what I was expecting based on the subject matter, and I think a big part of that is the expert treatment the script gets in Denis Villeneuve’s hands, and the collateral goodness that comes from his team, including Jóhann Jóhannsson doing another amazing soundtrack (really, one of the best soundtracks of sci-fi cinema, right up there with Blade Runner and 2001). There is mystery in this movie, in the build up, that makes this feel very real, like it’s happening on this world and not on some other world. Of course, due to the nature of the film itself, eventually they have to give definite shape to the spacecraft, and we have to explicitly see what the aliens look like. Then again, maybe I’m going about this the wrong way—as I type this, I’m remembering that the whole point of the film is that it’s not really about aliens at all. The memorable part of the movie is the drama about Amy Adams and her dead kid, and even though the whole revelation about non-linear time and the functions of language are to me a little ripe for cheesiness, it’s a pretty interesting twist, on a calibre you don’t really see in mainstream Hollywood too much. This movie didn’t have the histrionic screaming that constitutes so much of Hollywood awards-drama, and it doesn’t have a misunderstood renegade protagonist wallowing in their moral ambiguity like almost everything else out there (including but not limited to superhero movies). This was just an interesting, original story in a pretty underlooked genre—because as much as sci-fi is always “actually” about contemporary human affairs, the first contact genre kind of embraces that more openly: alien life is a mystery to us, so if we make a movie about alien life, let’s actual make a movie about human life. And for all that, this movie was done extremely well. I haven’t even mentioned the acting, which was all quite good, because the writing was all quite good. Forest Whitaker—yes please. Michael Stuhlbarg—always a treat. Even Jeremy Renner, who I once called the Three Doors Down of leading actors, did a top notch job in this (a supporting role, but still). And of course, once we get to Amy Adams and what a great job she did, we have to mention how rare and awesome it is to see a movie just get on with it—a movie with a woman in a central role, because why not? (Although for that matter, this blog could do with just getting on with it and not making a big song and dance every time I see a movie with a female protagonist. Point taken!) I was just thinking about Amy Adams versus Jessica Chastain, who I still compare because both are really great red-haired actresses who came to my attention around the same time doing great leading and supporting roles (and who initially, I had a hard time telling apart). I’m comparing Amy here to Jessica in Zero Dark Thirty and how you really couldn’t switch the two—Amy Adams has too much of some kind of everywoman in her, like a Tom Hanks effect, that to date, wouldn’t quite sell the moral ambiguity of Zero Dark Thirty for me, but which, to me, was supremely important for this role. And really, Tom Hanks is a false comparison, because a part of his everyman-quality is an underlying dumbness, if you know what I mean, just in the projection of the character-type, whereas Amy’s roles have an underlying intelligence and resolve, and here, that’s what really carries the movie in a way that nobody but Amy Adams could have done. Really, isn’t that what a great performance is? When you see it and you’re convinced that nobody else could have done it? Ten years ago this would have been a Tom Hanks movie, and it would have been seen as super progressive to put Helen Hunt in the Jeremy Renner role as a theoretical physicist. That statement wasn’t very profound, so I think I’m done here.

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