Rated PG-13, 116 minutes
The provocative, slow-moving yet well-acted new science fiction thriller "Arrival" arrives in theaters with some heady themes, grounded by a luminous, Oscar-worthy turn from lead actress Amy Adams ("Her").
When multiple mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team is put together to investigate, including linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), and US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker). Mankind teeters on the verge of global war as everyone scrambles for answers—and to find them, Banks, Donnelly, and Weber will take a chance that could threaten their lives, and, quite possibly, humanity.
Directed by "Sicario's" Denis Villenueve with a screenplay by Eric Heisserer and based on the science fiction short story "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang, the intelligent "Arrival" comes armed with lush visuals and a slow-moving story with ideas that seek to challenge the complex notions of free will and a deterministic universe. If all that sounds a little over your head, don't worry - it is - further compounded by its non-linear plotting that requires its audience to pay attention to many details.
The film's expository chapters are a tad sluggish, but as "Arrival" goes into its second act, it becomes a compelling, thought-provoking portrait of how humans are impacted by non-human life, particularly with the ability to communicate and look ahead. "If you are able to see what happens in the end, would you still choose what you do now?" Adams' Louise poses near the end of the film.
Adams' subdued but affecting turn grounds the movie well, and it would surprise few if she received yet another Oscar-nomination for this subtle turn as the scientist who is seemingly figuring out life itself by communicating with the aliens. Adams' "American Hustle" co-star Renner is solid, as is Oscar-winner Whitaker, well-cast as the gruff Army colonel seeking some easy answers.
The lush visuals and special effects, along with the lovely photography by "Selma's" Bradford Young and a pounding score from Johann Johannsson, who worked with director Villenueve on "Sicario," add some texture and shape to the lovely "Arrival," which some may compare to previous sci-fi films "Contact" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," though in fact it stands on its own quite nicely.
The sluggish first act and some too-heady ideas may confound some, but the touching, insightful "Arrival" is still worth a look, and one of those you'll want to enjoy seeing with a friend or family member and discussing afterwards.