From a cinematic storytelling standpoint, some subjects are just hard to make compelling. To cite one example, a film about decoding symbols would be one of the last things I would have on my short list of go-to film subjects. Unfortunately, director Denis Villenueve’s latest film, Arrival, spends a good chunk of its running time depicting a scientist, capably played by Amy Adams, doing just that very thing. To be fair this is a science fiction film of the more intelligent variety. Going through the machinations of trying to figure out what a race of advanced space aliens may or may not be trying to tell us would obviously entail some sort of subplot involving translating messages, so it isn’t unwarranted. It’s just that it doesn’t necessarily make for a compelling time at the movies and that’s one of the problems I had with Arrival.

Now having gotten all of that out of the way I’d like to make it clear that there’s good stuff sandwiched into the film. The opening, for instance, is a real grabber as it depicts the stages of a life cut short, from birth to death, and all the precious moments contained therein. It’s an incredibly arresting and emotional sequence that grabs you and makes you pay attention, wringing out the viewer on an emotional level in a matter of mere moments, leaving you wondering what else the film might have in store. If only the film didn’t get bogged down in a grade B, military versus aliens subplot later on, taking the viewer out of the film’s emotional realm and into more conventional waters.

The character at the heart of the film would be Dr. Louise Banks (Adams). She’s a linguistics professors who’s in mourning, having recently buried her teenage daughter. Scenes from the relationship between Banks and her daughter are sprinkled throughout the film and these are some of the film’s best moments, serving to remind the audience the preciousness of time spent with those we love.

Banks, due to her well regarded status in the linguistics field, is summoned by the government when aliens of the outer space variety arrive on the scene. It eventually becomes Banks’ task to decode their message and possibly save the world before a Chinese general begins blasting away at the aliens. Banks is aided in her task by a physicist (Jeremy Renner) who serves as a sidekick at first but eventually grows emotionally closer to Banks.

Arrival is a film best summed up as being the kind of thing whose parts are better than the whole. Some of those parts are breathtaking to be sure but the less compelling parts, unfortunately, keep the film from soaring as it should.

Photo: Amy Adams & Jeremy Renner in Arrival.
This movie is playing in Hickory and all around the area.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at [email protected].