Arrival ★★★★½

A deeply meditative, philosophical & introspective sci-fi that's more interested in contemplating the human nature than the fantasy elements of its genre, Arrival is one of the most intelligent sci-fi films released in recent years, and arguably the most thematically dense in ages. Cleverly crafted, firmly grounded & deftly layered with intricate themes, it may give the impression of a sci-fi blockbuster with an alien invasion concept but is actually a far better & much more involving cinema that has a lot to say about our own kind than the aliens present in it.

The story of Arrival follows Louise Banks, an expert linguist whose life changes when twelve extra-terrestrial spacecrafts mysteriously appear across the planet one day, causing widespread panic all over the globe. Recruited by the US military, Banks is brought to a camp near one of the crafts and is tasked to communicate with the extraterrestrials, decipher their language and determine if they come in peace or are a threat to humanity. But when patience amongst world leaders regarding the alien presence begins to wear out, she is compelled to take a drastic action that will decide the fate of mankind.

Helmed by Denis Villeneuve (Polytechnique, Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy & Sicario), Arrival presents its director in sublime form as he takes a minimalist approach here and turns this sci-fi into a surreal, stimulative & sensory experience that constantly brims with an aura of mystery while bringing our primordial instincts into play, especially our fear of the unknown. His direction also makes sure that there are no wasted shots or deviation from the main premise plus he manages to keeps things taut & tense until the very end. The script is dense with existential themes, throws subtle hints every now n then, and is wholly invested in the journey of our protagonist.

The set pieces are meticulously detailed in both form & function, and extensive care is taken to make those little details stand out. Be it the design of the aliens or their language vocabulary or the spacecraft itself, every element is properly weighed before they make their way into the final print. Camerawork is absolutely spellbinding, and encapsulates the entire picture with an ominous ambience while the overcast condition, cold colour palette & smart lighting further contribute to its mystifying vibe. Editing is steadily carried out, making sure that every sequence is relevant to the plot.

And last but not the least is the brooding, enigmatic & stellar score from Jóhann Jóhannsson that's fitting in every manner yet it is overshadowed by a mesmerising track from Max Ritcher that bookends the film on an ideal note. Coming to the performances, Arrival features a brilliant cast in Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner & Forest Whitaker, with Adams single-handedly stealing the show with an outstanding showcase that definitely ranks amongst her finest performances. Renner plays a theoretical physicist who teams up with Banks to decipher the alien language and delivers a very down-to-earth input while Whitaker is passable at best.

On an overall scale, Arrival continues Denis Villeneuve's seemingly unstoppable streak of quality filmmaking and is undeniably the most ambitious project he has worked on, so far. A masterwork of intricate plotting, nuanced storytelling, extensive thematic depth, compelling narration & rich characterisation which is further uplifted by its first-rate production design, visually arresting photography, steady pace, smart editing, splendid score & excellent lead performance from Amy Adams, Arrival is sophisticated in storytelling aspects, accomplished on all fronts, and is a timely exploration of the human condition that simply asks for more transparency in communication during times of bitter conflict. Strongly recommended.

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