Denis Villeneuve returns after the genius Sicario for another highwire balance act of theme, genre, and entertainment with science fiction wonder Arrival. As much as Villeneuve is proving to be a master of assembling precise craftspeople to create a harmonious experience with his films, Arrival also proves him to be one of the deepest empathy. If Sicario and Prisoners gave his worlds actual brutality, this time there is an agony of the soul to which he finds our greater natures – this is ultimately his most optimistic film, but the emotional triumph is also the most hard won. In a bravura feat of cinema, science, and language, Arrival will deceive you with its modesty and surprise you in its ideas.
From the film’s mysterious outset, Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is brought in as a language expert to facilitate contact with one of twelve alien vessels that have dropped across the globe. The intent of the visitation is unclear, the alien heptapods frightening but not obviously dangerous. As Banks develops vocabulary and communication with the visitors, the limits of language on her own planet escalates the sense of paranoia. Without spoiling too much, the film becomes about the very nature of language to alter our perceptions, our ability to think and feel.