Arrival (2016)

Arrival (2016)

With great direction, cinematography, acting, and special effects, Arrival is a sci-fi masterpiece filled with engaging drama and thought-provoking ideas.


Arrival follows Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist/professor who possesses a talent for interpreting many languages. Because of a devastating personal tragedy, Banks lives an isolated life. While teaching a class at the university, Banks is made aware of the arrival (no pun intended) of 12 gigantic, black shells landing each in separate countries. The presence of these shells causes people to worry and go frantic, concerned that these alien-like shells may cause danger in the immediate future. The day after, when Banks is alone at the institution, Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) walks into her office and requests her help. Bewildered and anxious about the reason for their presence on earth, Weber recruits Banks to decipher and translate whatever audio and visual cues the aliens give to the humans.

At the Montana-base location, Banks and military astrophysicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) are informed by Colonel Weber that the bottom of the shell opens every 18 hours, giving the scientists and military personnel time to explore inside the shell. Once Banks, Donnelly, Weber, and others put on their radiation suits, they go inside the shell and go into this room with a clear glass barrier that separates the humans and the aliens into two distinct realms. Not long after they’re in the room, the “heptapods” come to the glass barrier. Appearing as squid-like creatures, the heptapods raises their tentacles, which shoots out gas that magically forms into a unique, distinct symbol. They shoot out this gas whenever Banks and Donnelly introduce themselves in the form of them writing their names on a board and pointing to themselves.


Fascinated by how the heptapods communicate, Banks requests more time from Weber to do more tests and to fully understand the reasoning behind the heptapods’ presence on earth. However, as nations and governments become weary and concerned for the safety of mankind, Banks is placed on a strict timeline to figure out whether the aliens come as a threat or in peace. Will Banks be able to interpret the significance of the aliens’ presence on earth before government leaders decide to launch an attack on the aliens?

Directed by Denis Villeneuve, Arrival is a great sci-fi film with engaging drama, visual storytelling, and realistic visual effects. Villeneuve, who has directed movies Prisoners, Sicario, and Enemy, makes his most accessible movie yet. While the aforementioned movies are great films to watch and enjoy, only some viewers will be able to enjoy the gritty violence and action presented in these films. With Arrival, many people can appreciate the engrossing character drama that displays believable, flawed characters as well as sci-fi elements that are original, but also pay homage to classic sci-films (think Alien).


On a directorial level, Villeneuve directs Arrival with precision. Every scene presented onscreen is clear and edited perfectly. The scenes where humans are juxtaposed to the Brobdingnagian shells look authentic; the CGI effects of the shells mesh well with the cinematography to a point that this is one of the most visually-appealing films of 2016. The cinematography by Bradford Young (Selma, A Most Violent Year, Pawn Sacrifice) captures everything from the alien symbols to the large-scale events presented in Arrival. With a talent like Bradford behind the camera, he further imbues the film with verisimilitude, capturing authentic performances from the actors.

On a narrative level, screenwriter Eric Heisserer successfully incorporates visual storytelling, instead of using an abundance of exposition. Heisserer relies on viewers to pay close attention to the film, so they can learn everything they need to know on their own. Furthermore, Heisserer includes flashbacks of Banks’ character, so viewers can learn about her. Banks, a withdrawn, intelligent linguist spends the most time with the aliens. Through Heisserer’s script, viewers can see how her interactions with the heptapods affect her mentally and emotionally. Amy Adams delivers a strong performance as Banks; she in many ways make her intentions known as well as gain sympathy from viewers because of the extraordinary scenarios she’s thrusted in.

Other supporting actors Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, and Michael Stuhlbarg—who plays Agent Halpern—bring humanity and sympathy to their respective roles. Renner, as Donnelly, is the foil of Banks. While Banks’s storyline is weighty, Donnelly’s storyline has more levity. With Renner in the role, he provides funny moments whenever the film becomes serious. Forest Whitaker plays the strict Weber who is motivated to figure out the reason behind the aliens’ presence as soon as possible. With Whitaker in the role, Weber is more than just a harsh colonel who imposes Banks and Donnelly to hurry with their research. He is also an understanding man who is pressured by government leaders to solve this mystery, in their beliefs, that something catastrophic may happen. Stulbarg, who has the least amount of screen time, delivers a solid performance as Agent Halpern. As Halpern, he has the most contact with government leaders, and as a result, must think about not only the concerns of Banks and Donnelly but also the concerns of the leaders. This in turn relies on a talented actor to provide a conflicting performance because of how this character is pulled into many directions. With Stuhlbarg playing the part, he manages to convey complex motivations with ease. Overall, because of the great acting performances from the talented cast, Arrival is a well-acted sci-fi drama, buoyed by a star-studded performance from Amy Adams.

With great direction, cinematography, acting, and special effects, Arrival is a sci-fi masterpiece filled with engaging drama and thought-provoking ideas.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Images from:

  1. First image:
  2. Second image: The Guardian
  3. Third image: Cleveland Scene
  4. Fourth image: Youtube

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