One fine day, life on Earth comes to a standstill when 12 mysterious unidentified spacecraft, manned by extra-terrestrial aliens, appear around the globe. Humans panic. Each country, where the spacecraft have docked, try their best to investigate the aliens.
In Montana, US, Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguistics expert along with a mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) are among those recruited by the US Army. Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) will approach one such spacecraft that has "landed" there, in the hope of making contact with the aliens and finding out the reason they have come to Earth and now that they have arrived, what are their intentions?
As the clock ticks away with the risk of a global war between humanity and the aliens, Louise finds herself on the verge of a breakthrough that could have profound implications for not only the aliens' presence on Earth, but also her own life. How her personal journey and evolution unfolds forms the sub-plot of her mission.
Though, "Arrival" is based on the award-winning short story, "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang, and screenwriter Eric Heisserer sticks to his source material with sincerity, it fails at the primary level simply because its complexity seems pretentious and the execution of the film, superficial.
But at the cerebral level, the film seems layered with life lessons. The complexities of the narration that initially seem enigmatic, slowly get disconnected and the metaphors become red herrings.
While on the surface, the film may appear to be about an alien invasion, and the threat that occupies the minds of the humans, in reality the film is about how language moulds us as to who we are.
It tells us how people approach the world differently because of their vocabulary and that reality varies according to the linguistic tools employed.
Despite the layers in the interpretations, the film fails to grip you as the tone oscillates between a slow paced science fiction and a philosophical character-driven drama. The script fails to fulfil either genre completely.
Amy Adams gives yet another strong performance portraying Louise as someone with an explorer's spirit and passion who also has a compassionate streak in a lonely soul. She is aptly supported by Jeremy Renner, who brings an equal amount of wit, confidence and scientific sensibilities to his performance as Ian Donnelly.
Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber is more of a supporting player here, his character being subtle and not overbearing, making him ineffective as a person of authority. The rest of the supporting cast are Michael Stuhlbarg as Agent Halpern, Tzi Ma as the Chinese General Shang and Abigail Pniowsky as the little girl Hannah. They have their moments of on-screen glory in the film's overarching narrative.
The cinematography by Bradford Young is graceful. Each frame lingers on languidly. It captures production designer Patrice Vermette's awe-inspiring, simple set designs and seamlessly merge into the computer-generated images and visual effects done by Louis Morin and his team. And composer Johann Johannsson's pronounced moody score, elevates the viewing experience of "Arrival".
'Arrival' may not appeal to all.