Movie Review – “Arrival”

Viewers are cautioned to approach “Arrival” with the same mental acuity as a straight-A student sitting down to take their high school SAT test. 

– Patrick King, REEL


“Arrival” is going to be either a clear-cut hit or miss for moviegoers, with passionate sci-fi enthusiasts more likely to place this film in the former category. Others will scratch their heads leaving the theater and rhetorically ask themselves “Can I have those two hours of my life back?” But few partakers of “Arrival” will put it into the middle-ground of mediocre.  It’s a go big or go home formula for this edgy mind-bender.  The latest film by Denis Villeneuve (who directed last year’s pulse-racing “Sicario”), “Arrival” explores an alien vs. human showdown over Montana, as a dozen spaceship pods (or “shells”) arrive unannounced in parts of the world.

Viewers are cautioned to approach “Arrival” with the same mental acuity as a straight-A student sitting down to take their high school SAT test.  Serious cognitive stories require serious concentration to decipher linguistic relativity and its relative effect on a person’s world views. 

The concept that thoughts are determined by language comes across like a philosophy lecture back in our college days.  And one’s skillful ability to finish a BFF’s sentence in mid-conversation is not nearly enough moxie to fully understand or apply the film’s scientific theories.  Simply put, one must focus intently on the notion of linear time and how one would approach life if they knew how it all played out beforehand. 


Director Villeneuve orchestrates confusing mental gymnastics upon the audience, combining a stale present day storyline with a barrage of visual “flashbacks” into Amy Adam’s Louise Banks character. Banks, a college Linguistics professor, is asked by the U.S. military (an Army Colonel portrayed by Forest Whitaker) to direct first contact negotiations with a pair of these squid-like creatures.

The film begins with a plausible and well-developed alien arrival to Earth.  Between the mass hysteria and “Breaking News” mantras from the media worldwide, a gritty global response is initiated—only to be noticeably forgotten.  Boredom ensues when the film’s trail of crumbs into the aliens is stopped to prolong the razor-thin, repetitive memories revealed from Louise’s life role as mother and wife.

Villeneuve’s sleight of hand filmmaking technique is both confusing to follow and too time consuming for many to care about by the last scene–wasting the movie’s solid opening and top-shelf cast.  Faithful viewers are conspicuously kept in the dark until the film’s anticlimactic and lackluster ending.

“Arrival” tries too hard to elicit a sci-fi equivalent to the shocking mind game from the movie classic “The Sixth Sense”.  After a promising start, the movie slows to a cephalopod-writing pace and clumsily tests viewers’ patience beyond what most humans should endure at a theater.  Despite having Oscar-winner Whitaker and over a half-dozen Academy Award nominations between Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, the trio’s sensational acting skills are not given roles to truly shine.

Stay hydrated, get plenty of rest, and indulge in your favorite Starbucks drink before catching this far-out alien head-fake. 

Grade: C

“Arrival” is rated PG-13 for brief strong language.  Its running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.

© 2016, Patrick. All rights reserved.

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