When the film ended, and I looked over at my darling companion, the first thing she said is that this movie was complicated. That’s a statement that can and DOES apply to all Denis Villeneuve’s movies. This is a guy who expects nothing less than perfect from whatever he makes, and because of that puts out some of the most underrated films that I have ever seen. The man loves to make his movies complicated, with both themes and symbolism that you can easily miss. When my girl and I got to talking about the movie after we got done watching, I pointed out something that I am reasonably certain I caught that she missed. I won’t say what it is. I hope that there are going to be some fantastic arguments with people about all the parts of the movie. This was the most unexpected sci-fi movie about aliens landing, and it is this movie that makes me absolutely certain that the sequel to Blade Runner (one of my all-time favorite films) is in good hands.
The plot of the film follows Amy Adams’ character, as a professor of language who seems to have had a tragedy befall her life. I can’t tell you what it is. Trust me, it plays into the plot in a big way. While dealing with this, a series of strange crafts come to Earth from the stars. The military asks her to come with them and help to establish contact, as they are completely unable to communicate with the beings. The film chronicles her efforts to speak with the creatures, and decipher the one question that has the entire world on edge – what is your purpose on Earth? A question that is far more difficult than you’d think to ask.
I cannot begin to praise how believable the elements of this film are without an INSANE level of exposition. This feels so genuine. So much of that pends on Amy Adams for her performance. This woman is a rising star in my eyes of actresses. She is fantastic in this role, and I hope to see her in more fantastic movies in the future. The way she explains the usage of language and shows just how much of an academic understanding she has of the medium is wonderful. When the film wants to show that knowledge, it does so incredibly well. Amy Adams is the glue that held this movie together, and it is was damn-near perfect glue.
But let’s not cute short the rest of the performances. Jeremy Renner is very good in his role. You can see the development of his character from a science who takes what Adams’ character believes not seriously at all to respecting her as he sees just how good she is and how hard she is willing to push herself. The relationship that develops between the two is believable and by the end, you feel their connection without some cliche kiss in the rain or something like that. Just through little expressions, you see them growing on each other.
Then there is Forest Whitaker’s character. In fact, everything to do with the military in this movie was worlds better than what you see the military like in other films. Sure, they are quick to assume deadly intent, but you can see just how powerless and fearful they are. This is so much bigger than any one nation, and as the situation grows more and more tense, globally, it makes sense why they are so on edge. Whitaker grows to depend on his two experts feels real and even how he is having to obey orders when he knows that the situation is more complicated. I hate in movies how the military is treated like some “let’s just shoot them” group. Sure, we in ‘Murica do tend to shoot first and ask questions never, but in a situation where we don’t know if shooting might result in global destruction, even ‘Murica would have to bend to the idea of trying to find a peaceful solution. Granted, there are some “we need to blow them up” moments, but there is enough time of them being unsure and trying to look into other alternatives that I can believe when it gets there.
Now let’s get to the effects in this movie. I won’t claim that they are perfect. In fact, there is one scene in-particular where Adams’ CG hair is so bad that it is kind of funny. But this film keeps the visual effects to a minimum. And when it wants to shine, it really does. Since the entire conflict in the film is about translating the aliens’ language, the scenes where we get to see both sides communicating are just awesome. I love the visual design for the language. I wonder how much effort went into designing it. Since Villeneuve tends to be an insane perfectionist in his movies, I get the feeling that it was a lot.
Lastly, if you are going to see this movie, keep in mind that it’s dense. If you’ve seen this director’s other words, you should know that going into it. It asks some pretty hard questions, and I can’t wait to get it on blu-ray so I can rewatch it and maybe do a Critical Examination of the film and some of the stuff I saw. My compatriot wasn’t in the right mindset for how dense some of this got, but I could tell she was impressed when I took some of it and laid it straight. Plus, I loved getting to watch a movie with her. We don’t get to hang out nearly enough. But she’s a busy girl. Adulthood, am I right?
This was a fantastic movie. It’s not for everyone. If you are looking for some alien thriller with all kinds of action, you are DEFINITELY going to the wrong place. I honestly recommend that anyone who wants to see this movie avoid trailers. They spoil things. This director doesn’t get the respect he deserves, but hopefully movies like this get him some more mainstream acclaim. I can’t wait to see what he does with the Blade Runner universe.
9 out of 10