Tag Archives: denis villeneuve

Language Lessons? A 60 second review of Arrival (2016)

“Now that’s a proper introduction.”

Arrival is about as far removed from a cheesy sci-fi blockbuster as you can get. So if you watch the film expecting to be bowled over by action and lasers, I guarantee you will feel more than a little let down. That being said, if you go in with the most open mind possible, it will be filled with some of the most profound science-fiction writing and jaw-dropping visuals ever put to screen. There’s a reason it’s still holding strong well above 90% on Rotten Toms.

From the director that brought us Prisoners and Sicario, two of my favourite films in the last few years, Arrival is an alien invasion film that is less about defending our planet, and more about questioning how we would communicate with another species, if at all. Linguistics and physics both have a part to play as we battle our inherent divisiveness and unravel why the aliens are here, and more importantly, what exactly they want from us.

Not to give anything away, but Arrival also plays with our assumed concepts of cause and effect, as well as how our memories dictate our actions. Confused? Me too. I guess we are just going to have to science the shit out of this one…

What I liked…

The term “visionary director” gets bandied about way too often in the film community, but in Villeneuve’s case it feels more apt than usual. Although an extremely character-driven movie, there are some broader shots that leaves your jaw on the floor. This is especially the case when you first see the ship hovering above the ground, as the surrounding atmosphere and moisture gets pulled over the rolling hills, creating one of the most stunning science fiction shots I have ever seen. I can’t get enough of this guy.

The film completely hinges on Amy Adams playing Dr Louise Banks and she doesn’t disappoint. With the uncanny knack of being able to display multiple emotions at once, her story is the canvas on which Vilenueve paints the film, as she shows her vulnerability as well as her strength, reflecting on some level our own species. As with Prisoners, the characters in his films always seem so, well, human. This is key to the film’s success.

The reason I love science-fiction above all other genres is that on occasion, it tackles concepts that reach beyond our own planet and broaden our horizons. The almost mystical detachment written over the face of Dr Banks as she interacts with the aliens, reflects our own step back as viewers and critics alike attempt to get their head around exactly what Arrival is. I love ideas, even if I don’t understand them, and Arrival is full of narrative twists and turns that keep you thinking throughout.

What I disliked…

There are some slightly pointless characters, like Jeremy Reiner’s, but they do all help to build the character of Dr Banks, on which the film pivots.

Forest Whitaker is a legend, but his accent slips more than once in this movie.

The film is slow, but it really has little choice when you consider the linguistic and temporal barriers it attempts to break down for us.

It isn’t as engaging and as well paced as his other films, which some extra editing may have helped. That being said, there are some shots which I wouldn’t want to lose even a millisecond on.

Shapstik Verdict

The film goes beyond the merely cerebral and steps into a realm of galactic linguistics that will leave some, myself included, feeling a little drained and slightly jarred. But questioning not just our place in the universe, but our understanding of it, is a rare jewel in science-fiction and one that I think is worth treasuring, especially when the writers and directors are able to translate such an earth-shaking idea onto film so well. Add to that incredible cinematography, great performances and a courageous narrative, you have a film that will no doubt demand not just a rewatch, but a rethink as well. 8/10

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Prisoners (2013)

“They only cried when I left them.”

From Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, Prisoners takes a trip down a dark and disturbing rabbit hole, weaving around the lives of several people involved in the abduction of two young girls. Hugh Jackman is intense as one of the distressed fathers, whom works both with and against the law in an attempt to find his daughter. But it is Jake Gyllenhaal who makes the biggest screen impact, combining his experience in Zodiac with one his most understated but professional performances as Detective Loki, a delightfully ambiguous character attempting to unravel the mystery at hand.

The director’s leaden and layered style is evident straight from the start, with clever dark and patient shots that hold onto the emotion written on the faces of all involved. Although the story itself lacks any real surprise, the myriad of character emotions, from Bello’s regression to Jackman’s frustration and cruelty, creates drama and leaves the viewer fully engrossed and slightly on edge. The cinematography also combines with Guzikowski’s writing to make a film that is artfully textured, but also intensely exciting. Although there is a sense of unfulfilled promise in its restraint, the dialogue flows and mixes with the rain-drenched setting evenly, so as not to leave the viewer squirming uncomfortably in their seat.

As an undoubtedly sinister and arty film, there are several clever metaphors and religious suggestions to have the critics crooning, but it does feel a shame that the gas isn’t stepped on sooner to catapult the film forward into an intense thriller. Despite this though, with such blurred lines between the characters and their motives, the real thrill is seeing the great actors performing. Especially Gyllenhaal’s eye-twitching and Paul Dano’s Eli-like turn as imprisoned suspect Alex Jones.

With an ominous and haunting soundtrack that sounds like a cross between Atticus Ross and John Carpenter to accompany the film, Prisoners is a classy yet honest movie that delivers a solid if somewhat predictable plot, coated with exceptional performances and some delicious cinematography that will linger behind the eye for some time.

Shapstik Verdict:  Prisoners exudes such an overtly artistic style, that its patience and long running time arguably oversteps the mark to the point of slightly silencing a potential thriller, which broods underneath the surface like those imprisoned souls that suffer in the film. But the plot’s twists and turns expertly intertwine with the emotion of the characters to punch a hole through the screen and reach out to the viewer, delivering a truly dark and layered drama that is not easy to forget.  8/10