by Hope Madden
Amy Adams is as reliable an actor as they come. Thoughtful and expressive, she shares a tremendous range of emotions without uttering a sound.
With his latest, Arrival, director Denis Villeneuve puts her skills to use to quietly display everything from wonder to terror to hope to gratitude as her character, Dr. Louise Banks, struggles to communicate with visitors.
Twelve vessels have touched down in random spots across the globe: Sierra Leone, Russia, China, United States. Each nation has taken its own tack toward determining the purpose of the aliens. An expert in communication and linguistics, Banks has been brought to Montana to decipher that purpose.
Villeneuve, working from Eric Heisserer’s adaptation of Ted Chiang’s short “Story of Your Life,” whispers reminders of a dozen other alien invasion films without ever bending to predictability. His is a sense of cautious wonder.
Those familiar with the director’s work – particularly his more mainstream films Prisoners and Sicario – may be preparing for the unendurably tense. No need.
Yes, there are armed skirmishes, doomsday predictions and bad decisions, but Villeneuve’s focus and ours is always with Banks, whose struggle to make sense of the situation mirrors our own.
Adams owns a performance that does not immediately dazzle. Banks is a solitary, somewhat morose figure. Her predicament reflects humanity’s – she isn’t using her power to communicate for its true use, connecting.
Villeneuve and Adams toy with your expectations – Adams, because of your preconceived notions concerning her solitude, and Villeneuve through a sly playfulness with time and structure.
This sleight of hand allows the filmmaker to ask questions that are simultaneously grand and intimate. Arrival is a quiet film – not mind-blowing or terrifying or one to elicit a self-satisfied, “Fuck yeah!”
People looking for explosions and jingoism on a global scale need not attend. In its place is a quiet contemplation on speaking, listening and working together. While that may not sound like much excitement, it’s about as relevant a message today as anything I can think of.