Arrival (2016) Movie Review

Before getting started with my review of Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, I would like to take a quick moment to address some website housekeeping. This review marks my 400th article on CineFiles, this tiny blog I began almost two years ago.

Incidentally, today also saw the site surpass 100,000 site views. I understand 100,000 seems minuscule in a worldwide internet environment, but given the large number of outlets for movie reviews and entertainment news online, it is a number I never expected to reach.

I began CineFiles on a whim to put my movie obsession to words. I didn’t expect much from it, but it has provided me with opportunities that have been exciting and fulfilling.

In short, I would like to extend my thanks to all of you who have indulged me in my cinematic passion. Whether this is the first time you have stumbled upon my site or you have become a frequent visitor—even if all you want is a letter grade for Arrival and you want me to shut up and get to the point—I thank you for your time.

Now, let’s talk about aliens.


Space has been an obsession of cinema since nearly its inception, ever since Melies put a face on the moon. Space aliens have been othered and humanized, fought and loved. Now: studied.

When 12 dormant alien spacecrafts land across the globe, linguistics expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is called in to isolate and attempt to comprehend the extraterrestrial language.


Arrival, on multiple levels, is a story about the understandings and misunderstandings inherent with language. The two language experts, Louise and Ian (Jeremy Renner), have a primary goal of communicating with the aliens, but they also must contend with a host of obstacles at the hands of interpersonal communication with government officials.

The narrative of Arrival may not be what is expected from an alien invasion movie, but it is surprisingly compelling all the same. There is an intelligence to its determined slowness and sense of inevitability. Even ignoring the social commentary about a fragmented world that is inadequate in dealing with a global occurrence, which itself is quite effective, the story’s fundamental building blocks are pretty great.

One pivotal late-movie plot reveal does lead to a questionable resolution, one that will certainly be divisive due to its ramifications on the whole of the plot. This said, there is enough that is tangibly intriguing before it to make it hard to dismiss the entire film.

Speaking physically as opposed to tonally, the film is very dark. Places expected to be light are heavy in shadows. Places meant to be dark are lit soft and blue. This type of aesthetic can often come across as drab. Here, it is more fitting. It is ominous yet strangely non-threatening just as the towering alien craft appears from the outside.

The introduction to the interior of the craft is cinematically full. Manipulations of depth and extreme long shot scales create an environment that is intense. Absolutely beautiful cinematography makes a dark and empty space feel vibrant and full of emotion. Cinematographer Bradford Young does a magnificent job.

The score of the film is similar. It is an intrusive element in the best possible way. When it is present it is present, but this aids heavily in the creation of mood. The film has a wonderful sense of tone as it relates to its technical aspects.

Villeneuve has succeeded again at creating a film that is both cinematic and narratively strong. It falters with a certain plot point that may or may not turn off audiences, but the story has interesting facets to it. It is a science fiction fan’s must-see.


Arrival: B+


As always, thanks for reading!

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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)


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