BFI #LFF 2016: ARRIVAL Film Review


Denis Villeneuve delivers his biggest and best work to date with ARRIVAL

Following the superior SICARIO (2015), Denis Villeneuve returns to the big screen with his latest feature film ARRIVAL, marking his biggest and best work to date.

Based on Ted Chiang’s short story STORIES OF YOUR LIFE, ARRIVAL tells the story of linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) who is recruited by the US military led by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to assist in translating alien communications. Aided by theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Banks and the team attempt to decode the alien language to find out their purpose on Earth, but with a global war on the horizon, the pressure is on to act fast, threatening the life of the team, as well as humanity.

Smart, gripping and incredibly thought-provoking, ARRIVAL is film is a clever science fiction film rooted firmly in human emotion. Unlike other alien invasion films which pit mankind against the aliens, ARRIVAL is actually tale about the nature of time. The film starts with a montage of sequences from Louise’s past, which ends in the tragic death of her daughter. Louise needs to believe that something exists beyond the terrain of the Earth. As she attempts to decipher the meaning of the images the aliens use to communicate, recurring memories of her deceased daughter come flashing back, leaving us to ponder the nature of human existence and how grief and time play a part in our very existence.

ARRIVAL also examines the science behind communication. Louise and Ian have to rely on old school methods to establish trust and build a relationship with the aliens. In one scene, Dr. Banks explains the way she is going to communicate with the aliens by dissecting a sentence. It is a simple but fascinating insight into how communication works and reveals the importance of face-to-face dialogue which is almost forgotten in the digital age.


Amy Adams delivers one of the best performances of the year as Dr. Louise Banks. The strength of her performance lies in her emotional and physical reactions to things, using just her eyes, hands and facial expressions to break down barriers in communication.

Jeremy Renner is equally impressive as Ian Donnelly. Like Adams, Renner portrays his counterpart with emotional depth, a challenge when also conversing in scientific language, and his chemistry with Adams is both palpable and realistic.

The film takes its time to reveal its true nature and when the plot twist finally does arrive, it arrives quickly and demands that the audience retrace their steps to the beginning of the film.

That said, ARRIVAL is one of the best films of the year and a welcome change to the loud, intrusive superhero blockbusters of the summer. A stunning film that reminds humanity of what is really important.

4.5 out of 5 stars

ARRIVAL makes its Gala Premiere at the 60th BFI London Film Festival on 10 October and is released in UK cinemas on 11 November 2016.