It’s been a while since we have seen Amy Adams star in a movie that is actually worth watching. There was American Hustle, which, in retrospect, was a confusing film with awesome disco-era art direction. Then there’s her most recent role as Lois Lane in DC’s box office money makers, yet highly disappointing Superman movies. And then there was Tim Burton’s Big Eyes, a movie so forgettable that I almost failed to include it here. But at TIFF, Adams is reminding the world that she is still a brilliant actor. First with a stellar performance in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals and now with her amazing turn as Dr. Louise Banks in Denis Villeneuve’s ARRIVAL, a finely excuted and surprisingly stirring sci-fi pic that takes the typical alien invasion film in a refreshingly different direction.
Based on Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life” and adapted by Eric Heisserer, the story centers on Dr. Banks, a linguistics expert who is called upon by the U.S. military to help communicate with the inhabitants of one of 12 alien spacecrafts that have landed around the world. Under the leadership of Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) and with the help of theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), she must use her skills to ask the aliens one question: “What do they want?”
From the start, this is Adams’ movie and everyone else is decoration. The five-time Academy Award nominee knocks it out of the park in a nuanced performance of a woman, confident in her skills, thrown into an intense situation in which the country is relying on her to decipher the language of a pair of calamari-looking aliens whose language sounds like a mix between humpback whale songs and the freaky noises the Predator makes before he kills. On top of it all, she’s also struggling to cope with the loss of her daughter. Adams’ performance is equal parts focused and unnerving – and she’s absolutely captivating. It’s a welcome triumph for Adams that echoes her fine performances in Oscar-bait films like Doubt, The Fighter, and The Master.
Although Arrival has the panicked elements of a typical alien invasion pic, it immediately veers in a different direction. More Close Encounters than Independence Day, there are no explosions, body invasions, or probing of any orifices. Instead, it focuses on communicating and listening rather than resorting to violence — a method that is often difficult for humans to understand. More than that, it brings it down to a human level, and with the exception of some very “Hollywood” moments, many of the events that transpire feel fully grounded in reality. Villeneuve brilliantly takes a soulful approach to the film without compromising the genre, making it one of the best and smartest sci-fi films to come out in the past decade.
Running time: 116 minutes
Dino-Ray Ramos watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer