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TIFF Review: Arrival – “Moments of cinematic wonder”


From the opening moments of Arrival, with Jóhann Jóhannsson‘s beautiful, ethereal, yet foreboding, score, it becomes apparent that this is no alien blow up blockbuster.  The first few minutes of the film also let you know that this isn’t just emotionless sci-fi.  Those introductory moments of cinematic wonder set your expectations high- but the film largely meets them.

Arrival introduces us to Louise (Amy Adams), a linguistics professor that gets called in by the military after mysterious alien pods arrive around the globe.  She is joined by scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner).  Together they lead a team under the command of Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) in order to try and communicate with these new beings and ask them what their purpose is on Earth.

Amy Adams is generating a lot of Oscar buzz this festival, and it will be a toss up as to whether the attention will truly be for her performance here, or in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals.  Both her and Renner manage to portray their counterparts with emotional depth, a challenge when also conversing in scientific language.  The film itself is more about the human reaction to the alien objects, than the objects themselves, and Renner and Adams are formidable at bringing a range of realistic responses to the screen.  Their chemistry together is palpable, likely helped by their off-screen friendship.

Directed by Canadian Denis Villeneuve (last year at TIFF with Sicario), Arrival manages to pull off what Interstellar couldn’t – being a cohesive, science based drama that roots itself firmly in human emotion.   A film that connects.  Villeneuve’s visuals are brilliant, every frame thoughtful and deliberate.  Arrival‘s downfall is its plot twist which becomes a late turning point in the film allowing it to lose some momentum as the audience retraces their steps.  However, by film’s end it has recovered again and you’ve bought in.  In fact you’re all in.

After a summer of loud, intrusive super hero blockbusters, it’s a welcome change to be able to open your mind to something challenging at the theatre.  Arrival asks you to question what makes us human, how grief and time play into our very existence.  In fact, it would question you to ask how you are reading and understanding this very review.  If, as Adams’ Louise suggests, “Language is the foundation of civilization,” then surely misunderstanding it can be its downfall.  But asking these questions, well that is just about as human as it comes.  And if you want all the answers, well you’re probably going to need to give Arrival a repeat viewing.  Not that you’ll mind.


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