Ar­rival falls just short of great­ness

The Invercargill Eye - - CHRISTMAS AT THE RACES -

One day Den­nis Vil­leneuve will make a mas­ter­piece. In­cendies (2010) came close as dammit. Prison­ers (2013) started strong, but twisted when it should have stuck. Enemy (2013) was far too es­o­teric (read pre­ten­tious). And Si­cario (2015) was su­perbly crafted, but just shy of world­shak­ing.

For its first 30 min­utes, this cere­bral sci-fi, adapted by Eric ( Lights Out) Heis­serer from Ted Chi­ang’s Story Of Your Life, ap­pears to be the an­swer. In fact, the open­ing mon­tage, which del­i­cately frames our hero – lin­guist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) – in do­mes­tic tragedy, might be the most mov­ing since Up. Re­call­ing Ter­ence Mal­ick in their painterly in­ten­sity, they’re so pow­er­ful they cast a sad shadow over what fol­lows. As in Grav­ity, you can’t help feel­ing Banks would pos­i­tively wel­come an apoc­a­lypse.

But that’s not what hap­pens. One day, an­nounced by the anx­ious beep of her stu­dents’ cell­phones, 12 alien ves­sels land at strate­gic points around the globe, and For­est Whi­taker’s nonon­sense Colonel We­ber asks Banks, along with sci­en­tist Ian Don­nelly (Jeremy Ren­ner), to es­tab­lish if these vis­i­tors re­ally do come in peace.

At this point, the an­tic­i­pa­tion is tan­gi­ble – thrilling, even – and there are mo­ments of tac­tile ten­der­ness, such as when Banks traces her fin­ger along the bot­tom of the space­craft, or our first glimpse of the aliens (re­call­ing Gareth Ed­wards’ Mon­sters) ap­pear­ing through fog. It’s beau­ti­ful, but the ten­sion be­tween what’s hap­pen­ing on the world stage, and within the char­ac­ters, is poorly main­tained in the stum­bling sec­ond act.

It’s a pity, be­cause through­out Jo­han Jo­hanns­son’s sonorous score is lovely; the per­form­ers spot on; and the philo­soph­i­cal con­cerns deep enough to con­fuse Christo­pher Nolan.

In­deed, un­til Vil­leneuve makes an­other mas­ter­piece – the forth­com­ing Blade Run­ner 2049 per­haps? – this will more than do. Ar­rival (M) Di­rected by Den­nis Vil­leneuve Star­ring Amy Adams, Jeremy Run­ner, For­est Whi­taker

116 mins

Amy Adams is su­perb as lin­guist Louise Banks in the sci-fi drama Ar­rival.

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