Director Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049, Dune) is one of the most exciting and acclaimed directors in the modern age of filmmaking, and his sci-fi hit Arrival is making waves again after being added to Netflix’s vast catalog. The movie earned critical acclaim upon release, as well as a handful of Academy Award nominations, with Arrival still holds up just as well nearly seven years later.
Villeneuve has made no secret of his talents for sci-fi with his work in the Blade Runner franchise and now Dune, but the 2016 film is arguably one of his most inventive efforts. Between Arrival‘s subversive storytelling approach to the commanding performance of its lead, now’s as good a time as any to see why the movie is ranking in Netflix’s top 10 this week.
While the pulpier sci-fi stories and movies like Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day lean into the bombastic alien invasion trappings, one of Arrival‘s greatest assets is how it subverts this trope. The aliens in question aren’t overt threats with the predator drive of Xenomorphs, rather, Villeneuve tackles this premise in a much more grounded, but no less compelling manner.
These extraterrestrials and the way they are depicted are awe-inspiring in a unique way that audiences wouldn’t typically expect from a sci-fi movie with such a premise. Likewise, the reason behind these larger-than-life beings landing on Earth in the first place is something that will grip audiences and raise the stakes throughout the story.
Similar to how Arrival turns elements of the “alien invasion” premise on its head, Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer (Shadow and Bone) blend several genre and plot elements in creative ways to make the narrative as engrossing as it is. Much of this comes down to how protagonist Louise Banks’ role and character background contribute to the story’s conflict, as the linguist is desperately recruited by the United States Army to try and understand how to communicate with the aliens.
With some of the world’s biggest political powers struggling to do the same and agree on the best way to proceed, the uncertainty and looming threat of war make Arrival consistently and palpably tense. The stakes are undeniably widely scaled, but the human element of Banks’s personal life and tragic background with her daughter makes the plot deeply intimate as well.
The main cast of Arrival deserves plenty of collective praise, but Amy Adams’ performance is easily the standout. Adams has long since proved her acting prowess, ranging from the likes of director David O. Russell’s American Hustle to Marti Noxon and Jean-Marc Vallée’s Sharp Objects for HBO. However, her performance in Arrival can be argued as one of the bigger snubs from the 89th Academy Awards.
Similar to the tantalizing slow-burn of Sharp Objects, Amy Adams conveys much of the emotional — and even tortured — impact in Villeneuve’s sci-fi drama. In the same vein, she carries much of the humanizing elements in Arrival, especially when her character is so often surrounded by dangerously tense military officials and politicians who are equal parts terrified, anxious, and all too eager to plunge the world into war.