Arrival

November 15, 2016 at 12:53 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

In the range of Sci-Fi movies from flash-bang, special effects overload (think “The Fifth Element”) to slow, moody and ponderous (think “Moon”), this one lands somewhere just north of middle. In mood and theme and pacing, it very much reminds me of “Contact.” It isn’t devoid of action but it’s filled with more big ideas than big explosions. The short story that the film is based on, “The Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, was the winner of three prestigious science fiction literary awards in 1999. It draws heavily on mathematics and modern linguistic theories to construct a plausible, but very science-fictiony, story about how an alien language might look and how it might influence us. So, yeah. No Bruce Willis in this one. Instead, we getting acting heavyweights like Amy Adams, Forest Whitaker, and Jeremy Renner (who may be making his bread off of franchises like “The Avengers” and “Mission Impossible” these days but, all you have to do is rewatch “The Hurt Locker” to understand how powerful he can be). The three of them do an admirable job, well below their skill levels, of bringing these characters to life. This isn’t Scorsese but it’s a cut above your regular genre fiction. The plot is complex and interesting and the twist, which is revealed slowly, is a gratifying one. Director Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners,” “Sicario”) isn’t going for shocks here, he’s going for quieter surprises, so don’t expect a “Shutter Island” moment. The reality of the twist is in its implications more than its reveal. The short story spends more time on those implications and why certain choices aren’t made differently. Chiang is posing a question and asking us to consider how language shapes our perception and what free choice really is. Unfortunately, the film only hints at some of these issues but then, I guess, it couldn’t have delved too deeply. After all, it did need to leave room for an explosion somewhere.

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