Amy Adams’ hotly anticipated Arrival finally touched down for its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on Thursday, and critics have responded generally well (so far) to the Denis Villeneuve-directed sci-fi drama.
Reviews for the follow-up to Villeneuve’s well-received 2015 drama Sicario indicate another strong entry in the French-Canadian director’s filmography, one that is, in some ways, disconnected from the tone of his earlier work thanks to its status as a big-budget studio production.
Arrival, based on Ted Chiang’s novella The Story of Your Life, is expected to make a considerable impact on the awards season race. Traditionally, Oscar-bound films have made high profile premieres at Venice in the past, including Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman and Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. While critics have responded well to Arrival, early reactions aren’t as enthusiastic as they were for the aforementioned titles, though particular praise has been heaped on Adams’ performance, composer Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score, and Bradford Young’s cinematography.
Arrival plays at the Toronto International Film Festival later in September ahead of a Nov. 11 theatrical release date in North America. See what the critics are saying out of the Venice Film Festival in the review snippets below.
Owen Gleiberman (Variety)
“So you have to say this for Arrival, a solemnly fantastic tale of a highly enigmatic alien visit: The film has been made, by the intensely gifted director Denis Villeneuve, with an awareness that we’ve already been through this more than enough times, and that the definition of an alien movie — or, at least, one that’s trying to be a serious piece of sci-fi, and not just a popcorn lark like Independence Day — is that it’s going to hypnotize us with something that appears extraordinary because it’s altogether unprecedented… There’s a surprise circularity to the structure of Arrival that some may find pleasing, but there’s also a circular logic to it: The aliens have come to offer a weapon, which isn’t really a weapon, it’s a new way to order time, but the only one it seems to apply to is Louise, which makes the whole original purpose of their visit seem an awfully far-fetched conceit. At its best, Arrival has an eerie grandeur, but if the film starts off as neo-Spielberg, it ends as neo-Terrence Malick — it turns into an ersatz mind-bender. You feel like you’ve had a close encounter with what might have been an amazing movie, but not actual contact.”
Alonso Duralde (The Wrap)
“Not that this is a cynical movie, mind you; like last year’s The Martian, it’s about smart, driven people using their know-how to solve seemingly insurmountable problems and to answer the toughest questions. But while that film injected humor into the mix, Arrival is a fairly chilly, cerebral bit of business, from its beautifully tamped-down cinematography (by modern master Bradford Young) to Jóhann Jóhannsson’s ethereal score… If Arrival falls short in any way, it’s in a third-act pivot that attempts to appeal to the heart as much as to the head. Louise’s personal story is a powerful one, and the film never betrays this fascinating character, but it has so successfully created such a cool and detached vibe that it’s a bit jarring to get a last-minute play for the emotions. It’s not impossible to give audiences both a puzzle-box narrative and an exploration of life choices and what it means to be human, but the balance just doesn’t play here. (For what it’s worth, the movie does play personal concerns against intergalactic ones with more grace than Interstellar managed to do.) In films like Sicario and Enemy, Villeneuve remained true to his storytelling, no matter how potentially off-putting, but then neither of those were made for a major studio. Still, that slightly abrupt shift isn’t enough to significantly diminish the power and the problem-solving pleasures of Arrival.”
Jessica Kiang (The Playlist)
“It’s hard to adequately describe the immensity of the ambition of Denis Villeneuve‘s Arrival, a film that dances with concepts so colossal they’ve rather obliterated most of the previous films that have attempted to grapple with them (Robert Zemeckis‘ Contact and Christopher Nolan‘s Interstellar come to mind). But Arrival, the shimmering apex of Villeneuve’s run of form that started back in 2010 with Incendies, calmly, unfussily and with superb craft, thinks its way out of the black hole that tends to open up when ideas like time travel, alien contact and the next phase of human evolution are bandied about. A great deal of the credit must go to the remarkable short story on which Eric Heisserer‘s restrained script is based (The Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang), but it’s Villeneuve’s dedicated intelligence that brings it off the page and onto the screen with an apparent simplicity that connotes a refreshing faith not just in the material, but in the audience. It’s a monolith, a megalith, but like the gigantic alien craft that comes to rest somewhere above Montana at the start of the film, despite its immensity it hovers elegantly overhead. The film defies gravity… It’s ingrained so deeply in Western culture that science and art are oppositional disciplines, that math and physics belong to one branch of endeavor and creativity, expressiveness and philosophy to another. And that is why great science fiction cinema — and this is great science fiction cinema — can feel like such a pre-eminent genre. Here, using an art form that was itself born of technology, we get to venture out past those simplistic binaries to where there is poetry in mathematics and physics in philosophy — out into the frontiers of our universe and our power to comprehend where science and art are the very same thing. Arrival brings us there, and though the conclusions are earthbound and have so much to do with the nature of humanity and our relationship to mortality, my God, they’re full of stars.”
David Rooney (The Hollywood Reporter)
“How refreshing to watch an alien contact movie in which no cities are destroyed or monuments toppled, and no adversarial squabbling distracts the human team from the challenges of their complex interspecies encounter. Anchored by an internalized performance from Amy Adams rich in emotional depth, this is a grownup sci-fi drama that sustains fear and tension while striking affecting chords on love and loss… Arrival boldly snubs the standard alien-invasion vernacular of contemporary movies to explore a mood and language of its own. It may be a touch too subdued for the mainstream, but the movie has brains and originality, qualities these days too seldom valued in the genre.”
Robbie Collin (The Telegraph)
“Arrival’s ideas about language are reflected in its own storytelling methods in ways far too smart to spoil, and which result in a mid-film realisation – less sudden twist than sinuous unwinding – that forces you to reinterpret everything you’ve seen. (Much of it relates to an extended opening flashback in which Louise raises, then loses, a daughter.) The time to pull this stuff apart probably isn’t two months before Arrival’s UK release, so let’s just say the food for thought on offer here is Michelin-star-worthy. It turns an already beautiful, provocative allegory into the kind of science-fiction that can bump your whole worldview off balance. This is riveting, dizzying stuff from Villeneuve, and another early peak in a thunderously exciting year at the Venice Film Festival.”