Arrival (2016)

Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Taking place after alien crafts land around the world, an expert linguist is recruited by the military to determine whether they come in peace or are a threat.

Somehow transcends many genre tropes and existing cinematic masterpieces with a quiet and coldly beautiful visual style that somehow mixes both grace and grit. For example, I was expecting that Louise and Ian would be representatives in some cringeworthy 'heart vs. mind' debate, but that is rarely, if ever, made literal throughout the film in the usual, stereotyped ways. One of the rare performances I've seen of Whitaker where he isn't badly overacting, and he mostly nails the (equally on-the-nose) avatar for the U.S. Military. (Incidentally, and it's not my original observation, but we can see Whitaker's character as part of a long line of hyper-competent and loyal Black military commanders that started in the blockbuster 1990s, which arguably did non-trivial legwork in getting Obama into office… so there's a certain irony in this movie coming out in 2016.) Still, I found the geopolitics and thus the narrative tension to be more than a little routine. The Russians aren't sharing their information and the Chinese using Mahjong? What's next, England are reading Darjeeling leaves? Well, sure, maybe. But it just seems a little formulaic.


A merging of Steven Spielberg’s sense of wonder and Stanley Kubrick’s propensity for sinister visual symmetry. [A]bandoned somewhere in Arrival’s third act is the interest in language as the fabric of our reality, as the catalyst for the blossoming of Louise’s new existence as she becomes a woman without time, a potential new Billy Pilgrim. The film ends just as it’s revving up, then, evading the formidable formalist challenge of breaking the barriers of beginnings and endings, causes and effects. [A] moving yet disappointingly cautious mind-bender.

Chuck Bowen (Slant Magazine)


blends dread and anxiety with wonder. It is beautifully made, though it does not suggest beauty: The ship suggests arboreal patterns with walls textured like bark, and the only source of light is the atmospheric chamber in which the heptapods house themselves.

Andy Crump (Paste Magazine)


[T]he pace of Arrival softens a bit too much in the middle and one notices the sterility of the piece overall. Without spoiling anything, maintaining the shock value of the twists of the final act forces some narrative decisions in the mid-section that keep us observers to the action of the film when we’re ready to be participants. Villeneuve is a talented director, but this movie lacks a degree of heat that would have helped it hit the emotional and philosophical beats of the final scenes. As is, we often feel like we’re behind the barrier that Louise uses when communicating with the alien creatures.

Brian Tallerico (