Old Man Doom checks out Denis Villenueve’s Arrival
Howdy, Flushers! Old Man Doom here, subbing in for W. this week on Sunday Sesh. Today I want to talk about a film that has been receiving a lot of hype recently. That film is Arrival, starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. Adams plays a linguist (as a
linguist nerd, I appreciated the representation) who is recruited by the military after extraterrestrial craft touch down in Montana and all around the globe. Her mission: to make first contact and translate the alien language of the spacecraft’s occupants. Jeremy Renner is her physicist counterpart, and together they start the process of interpreting the aliens’ motivations and plans for humanity. But as the language barrier beings to drop and motivations become clearer, things get complicated. In an effort to avoid spoilers – as this film is still in theaters in the US – I’ll just say that for all the centuries of recorded history in which we humans developed hundreds of languages and nuanced ways of communication, our fate comes down to just a single word in the end.
This film is also Denis Villenueve’s follow-up to last year’s masterful exercise in tension and brutality, Sicario (W. liked it too). And because Sicario was my favorite film of 2015 (and has broken into my top 10 favorites of all time), I, of course, have to compare the two. So, here’s the question: does Arrival stand up next to Sicario or some of the other intense dramas/thrillers of the year so far?
It’s a mess. The intensity of the first and second acts cannot keep the film moving when it enters the somewhat confused and flaccid third act. I compare it more accurately to the gradual breakdown of plot and plot device that Interstellar suffers from (or at least that’s what people say it suffers from; I fucking love Interstellar). The problem is not necessarily that viewers are thrust headlong into a twist in the final act, but rather that it seems kinda pieced onto the end – forced into the story, if you will. While Sicario fully exercised it’s tense musculature through out its runtime, arrival lacks a resolution that makes any real impact, like slowing down just before reaching the finish line instead of speeding up. It’s there – the resolution is there. It’s just not the one I hoped for or wanted. The desaturated color of film contributes to this sense of dullness not by inspiring awe and terror at what is Earth’s most significant visitation, but rather presenting a sense of sameness, reinforcing the not-so-unique-anymore, washed-out “gray” vibe on screen that filmgoers see constantly.
Now, don’t get me wrong: Arrival is a pretty great movie. All the performances are relatively restrained in the best possible way, something I find Villenueve does best. And the creature design actually drives home the awe for viewers, evoking a disturbing revelation that sentient, intelligent life may not ever look or sound the way we do. That said, the emotional and narrative impact still loses something for me at the end. So, when it comes time to make that end-of-the-year film list, I’m not sure if Arrival is going to be on it. I would recommend seeing Arrival, but if I had to choose, I’d say that Sicario is the superior Villenueve film. And I’d even say that Midnight Special, with Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton, is the superiror Sci-Fi drama of the year. In fact, go buy Midnight Special and watch that. Do it now.
So, there’s my hot take on Arrival. What did y’all think of it? What some other hyped movies of the year that disappointed? What are you looking forward to seeing the most before the year’s out?