Are we alone? is a question oft asked in film and is rarely handled with such extreme detail and tender care as in Villeneuve’s Arrival. The list of filmmakers that have ventured into the E.T. realm is staggering in both length and prestige, but Spielberg, Scott, Nolan, and the like have never gone so deep into the technical grit only and returned with such a touching story about family, a global friendship, and choosing love in the face of heartbreak. Such is this expanded adaptation of Chiang’s short story.
Adams is so spectacular in everything she does that she always deserves awards consideration—and here a likely win—for her portrayal of the renowned linguist with a tragic past and future. Renner’s penchant for charisma with underpinnings of anger works well as Adams’ physicist counterpart. Whittaker and Stuhlburg serve ably as the military heavy and audience surrogate, respectively.
Obviously, Arrival is also very much a story about communication and how, presumably, we don’t do it nearly well enough. However, the movie’s biggest flaw is the climactic phone call to the Chinese Defense Minister. How a frantic call from someone he does not know containing some personal trivia convinced him to change his mind regarding a world-altering decision is quite mystifying. We are not privy to the true words spoken during that telephonic conversation, only a person-to-person meeting at a future date.
Though, it is not about the puzzle—and better for it—because Arrival is enhanced when the cipher is decoded and the actual themes can live in the absence of the unknown. Yes, a second viewing is a must.