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With: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Michael Stuhlbarg, Forest Whitaker, Tzi Ma
Written by: Eric Heisserer, based on a short story by Ted Chiang
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language
Running Time: 116
Date: 11/11/2016

Arrival (2016)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Alien Communication

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This deeply thoughtful, profoundly compassionate sci-fi movie beautifully mixes realism with a sense of wonder. It keeps its mysteries at bay, and, amazingly, does not disappoint when all is revealed.

In Arrival (not to be confused with David Twohy's 1996 movie The Arrival) professor of languages Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is headed to work when news of an alien landing spreads. Twelve alien pods are now hovering in different spots all over the world. Before long, she is approached by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), asking for her help in translating the alien language, to hopefully learn the purpose of their visit. Paired with scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), she ascends into the spaceship and meets the aliens face-to-face.

After several trips, she finds she can communicate with through writing, the aliens drawing complex circles with information contained in various blobs. As the world elsewhere waits and begins to panic, and talk of war begins, Louise and Ian may have discovered the secret that may save them all — if it's not too late.

French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, and Sicario) is growing into one of the best and smartest cinematic storytellers in the world, finding new ways to pull the camera back and observe, taking a little extra time to find emotions, and explore spaces and sounds (a chirping bird is especially poignant). The cinematography by Bradford Young (Selma) is breathtakingly mesmerizing, still and patient, without relying on action or adrenaline.

The long build-up to the meeting of the aliens is as wondrous and breathless as anything the cinema has conjured up recently. Most movies that begin with mysteries eventually give up everything, and invariably too soon, resulting in an anticlimax. But, as written by Eric Heisserer (Lights Out), and based on a short story by Ted Chiang, the puzzles and the thought-provoking solutions in Arrival only enrich the movie's transcendent quality; we're left off with satisfying answers, but also fantastic questions.

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