Genre: Sci-Fi, Drama

Compelling and bleak, Arrival combines the mysterious quality of classic sci-fi like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) with a mind-boggling plot akin to the films of Christopher Nolan. But rather than simply giving into a blockbuster wow factor, Arrival explores its themes with a unique and beautiful poignancy.

Linguist Louise (Amy Adams) is recruited by the military shortly after the arrival of 12 monolithic alien ships across the globe, to assist in translating the communications of one hovering above Montana. She’s teamed with military astrophysicist Ian (Jeremy Renner) and Colonel Weber (Forest Whittaker), a senior US military officer. Weber may take a bit of time to warm to her process, but once he has, it’s up to Louise and Ian to find out what the Heptapods (as they become nicknamed) are doing here, before world leaders across the globe jump to declaring war on them.

Their interactions with the Heptapods as follows reel us into an absorbing study on language and communication. It questions the way humans perceive the universe in relation to other potential beings, suggesting that language itself affects the way we perceive the world. ‘Are you starting to think in their language?’

At the same time, we’re confronted with the everyday reality of Louise’s life and how the aliens fit into that. The film explores themes of love, loss, loneliness, and motherhood. In just the films first tearful few minutes, we see Louise gifted with a child, raise her, and lose her to cancer.

It’s refreshing these days to see a movie that doesn’t rely on special effects, action or even over-the-top plot to deliver powerful science fiction. When you dig into it, there may be some plot holes – at least, parts which expose the film’s world as a little flimsy in places. But the enigma unfolds organically without seeming forced or commercialised. What’s more, it is glued together by gorgeously soft, deep colour tones; a sweet and delicate soundtrack, at times sinister; and an on-screen relationship to be praised: Renner and Adams’ story plays out with a rare subtlety, in part due to the script and further due to their strong and sensitive performances.