"I am extremely relieved to be far, far removed from the days when I couldn't pay my rent", Adams said. (Michael Stuhlbarg skulks around the edges as a Central Intelligence Agency adviser, advising a more confrontational approach with the tourists from above.) Shot under gray skies and in artful shadows by cinematographer Bradford Young, scored to wickedly disorienting music by Oscar-nominated "Sicario" composer Johann Johannsson, "Arrival" will cast a spell on some while merely discombobulating others.
Adams feels that as she has gotten older, the film roles she receives have been getting more interesting. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer adapted Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life", a few non-spoiler-y details of which can be relayed. Seeking language, a linguist found an unexpected story.
In the new movie "Arrival", Adams plays a linguistics professor drafted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to communicate with aliens. Forest Whitaker, in military fatigues, tells her to pack her bags: the world needs your linguistic skills. The aliens weren't friendly, but that wasn't the end of that. Adams is joined by fellow scientist Ian Donnelly played by Jeremy Renner. In short order, they suit up and head out to the base of the visitor for their first close encounter.
The spaceships open its doors every 18 hours and emissaries from the different countries will have the chance to make contact and determine the motive of the alien's visit. In fact, most movies fall so flat that it's hard to believe that people raved about it in the first place. How many times must we watch Adams trudge off to be decontaminated?
But director Denis Villeneuve ("Sicario") sometimes gets lost in repetition and blind alleys, causing the inherent tautness of the story to go slack. "What kind of papers are on your desk?' and Amy Adams" office in the film looks remarkably like a McGill linguistics office, right down to the ugly filing cabinets and bookshelves that we have".
As Banks visits more frequently with her two new friends, tension mounts between the USA and other governments over how much information they should share with each other and whether, as some countries believe, it's time to stop talking and start shooting. It's bold, and Villeneuve makes it work. The design of this particular sort of film - and to a greater extent, any science-fiction film - is twofold: 1) to show us something we haven't seen before, and 2) to teach us something about ourselves.
Whether or not that exact scenario plays out, it's fascinating to hear a producer admit the film demands that viewers engage with it on a different level from what they're used to, and then requires them to convince others to give it the same chance.
But that was just the sensation she craved. Movie-goers looking for spectacle and violence will likely be disappointed to discover the film's biggest action scene is Louise deconstructing a sentence. In Arrival, it is the plot. "But I try to figure out what they have in common".
The evocative nature of the story at the heart of Arrival will be what lingers the longest, be it the themes of grief, connectivity between worlds, or even nations, and the idea that peace could be a reality of fear wasn't a mandate in reacting to something foreign to our sensibilities.