We disagreed about this First-Contact, middle-brow, sci-fi melodrama: One of us found it dead on arrival; the other one cheered its humanity. What we agreed on was its craftsmanship, as Denis Villeneuve is a capable filmmaker who uses a mixture of shots, especially aerials, and who has a good ear for sound design and score, so as to create a particular mood. The problem, for one of us, is the story: By interweaving a grief narrative, following a maudlin trend set by Gravity, the movie is tiresome, as is its “non-zero-sum”-United Nations-kumbaya preaching. Furthermore, in the middle of the movie, a codebreaking breakthrough is made, but with little explanation: only a montage. The acting in Arrival is toned-down and competent, though Amy Adams does not deserve a Best Actress statue, and Jeremy Renner needs to start kissing in movies. Yes, there is a Twist, and it is clever, but we doubt it will “blow your mind.” There’s also a kind of reflexivity going on, if only because it appears as if the humans are looking at the aliens, whose language looks like the cover art for the new Radiohead album, on a movie screen. What we also agreed on was the effective use of Max Richter’s rousing “On the Nature of Daylight.” That was definitely out of this world.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White