Twelve gigantic black pods have suddenly appeared in the skies across earth. Clearly they are alien spacecraft, but what do they want? Are they invaders? Scientists? Tourists? Do they come in peace or do they pose a threat? The US military hires expert linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to find out. They've been allowed access into one of the pods, where hulking, squidlike creatures lurk behind a glass, eager to communicate. It's up to Dr. Banks to decipher their communications before less patient world leaders open fire. Jeremy Renner plays a physicist along for the ride; Forest Whitaker is their Army boss.
You'd be forgiven for prejudging Arrival as a pastiche of 2001, Close Encounters, Contact, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and even the old Twilight Zone episode "A Small Talent for War". But while the plot (adapted from Ted Chiang's award-winning novella Story of Your Life) borrows from all these sources, its emphasis on the power of language gives it a unique air that is both epic and intimate, wonky and accessible.
As he proved in his previous feature Sicario, Québécois filmmaker Denis Villeneuve is a major directorial talent, a master of pacing and framing. He really makes you look and listen. And Adams, for her part, has never been better. She anchors the film with grace and compassion. Story, special effects, cinematography, and music (an especially creative score, filled with world influences, by Jóhann Jóhannson) all come together perfectly.
This is one of those reviews where I don't have much to say, because everything in the film goes so right. Arrival works both as great science fiction and as great human drama. It's one of the most thought-provoking films of the year. Don't miss it.