Arrival is not a shaggy dog story.
It's a shaggy heptapod story.
Arrival is well-made, smart, and stylish, but at the end it's gimmicky. A lot of suspension of disbelief there.
As his work in Sicario (2015) showed, director Denis Villeneuve knows how to jolt and how to humanize. But he likes to take leaps in logic.
Arrival is the tale of the inhabitants of the earth trying to cope with the threat of unknown forces - not exactly a strength of the human race. Across the world, 12 space objects hover in different countries. Only one is in America - in Montana.
Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) enlists linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), who has aided him in the past, and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), to try to figure out why the aliens have come. Is communication possible? Is a threat imminent?
Louise and Ian travel to Montana, where they inter-react with the creatures in their obelisk-shaped (channeling Stanley Kubrick) transporter. There is a transparent barrier between the creatures - whom Ian and Louise dub Abbott and Costello - and the humans, but the major barrier is understanding. They are vastly separated by means of communication, language, and the potential value of time.
Much of the film is frustrating as countries jump to conclusions. The usual suspects are rampant - rogue soldiers, a hard-line talk show host, fundamentalists, looters, et al.
And China's commander (Tzi Ma) is influencing the countries who are approaching war.
Wait until you see how his mind is changed.
Arrival is a "thinking man's" film as long as you don't think much.
Arrival is based on a short story by Ted Chiang that is inflated to movie proportions by screenwriter Eric Heisserer.
Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner are gifted at portraying two experts under stress. Director Villeneuve evocatively uses their facial expressions. He is an evocative director.
Arrival turns out to be an evocative skit - who's on first in Montana?