The Hippo


Jan 18, 2020









Arrival (PG-13)
Film reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

 Amy Adams is a linguist asked to help communicate with a group of aliens who have appeared on Earth in Arrival, a chilly but slyly fun and emotional sci-fi.

Aliens arrive on Earth in vaguely egg-shaped crafts that hover above 12 sites across the world. China, Russia, Sudan and other countries across the globe, including the U.S., are working together — you know, sort of — and sharing the information they get about the “shells,” as the crafts are called, in their territories. Here, the shell hovers over Montana and the military has recruited the scientists working on the problem of how to communicate with the beings who, every 18 hours, open up their ship to let in the humans. Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker) recruits Dr. Louise Banks (Adams), first trying to get her to identify some kind of an alien language via a recording but eventually bringing her out to the site. She is joined by others, including Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a physicist. At first, they and the others across the world try all your standard sci-fi movie methods of talking to the aliens — prime numbers, math, etc. Eventually, Louise decides that the quickest road to communication might be a written language, so she and Ian attempt to teach the two aliens that show up in a kind of air-lock spaceship lobby a few basic words — human, Louise, Ian. Slowly, they learn to recognize the ink blotty circles that the aliens seem to squirt out of tentacles as language. 
Meanwhile, however, the world acts in not-surprising ways. China and Russia start to pull their scientists out of the video collaboration of countries while in America assorted elements suggest, basically, shooting at the aliens to show that we can. Louise soon finds her operation — the ultimate aim of which is to find out why the aliens are here, a complex question she has to work up to — put on a clock. Get some answers before the world goes to war, she’s told.
There is another element of what’s happening to Louise that, as the movie begins, seems like one thing but turns out to be something a little weirder and more integral to the central plot. It’s a nice element that adds some emotional heft to the movie while keeping the central “solving the puzzle” action more in the intellectual, science realm. The movie doesn’t have to waste a bunch of time “humanizing” Lousie as she works on the all-encompassing alien communication question. This part of the movie is work-focused, muted in color. It gives the other thread that runs through the movie more of a punch in comparison. 
Amy Adams does a good job of playing both of these parts with real humanity and with a kind of genuineness that works when you think A is true but still works later when you find out it’s really B. (It’s a hard performance to praise without spoiling.) I think it’s easy to remember her bigger, showier performances — Enchanted at the cheeriest end of the spectrum, Doubt toward the more dramatic — but Adams is really good at hitting the marks in between as well. Is there an Oscar for “Consistent Awesomeness”? I don’t think so but she would at least deserve a nomination.
Whatever you think Arrival is going in — and I think this is definitely one of those “less information the better” situations — it ultimately shows itself to be smarter than what you’d expect, a slower burn and a more affecting story for the way it unfolds. B+
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language. Directed by Denis Villeneuve with a screenplay by Eric Heisserer (based on a story by “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang), Arrival is an hour and 56 minutes long and distributed by Paramount Pictures. 

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