REVIEW: ‘Arrival’ gives aliens, Amy Adams plenty of good will

November 18, 2016 GMT

So many aliens have landed in films you’d think we’d be ready for their appearance.

In “Arrival,” however, residents around the world are freaked. Huge, egg-shaped vehicles hang in the air, suggesting they’re about to attack.

Before anyone starts firing, officials decide to see if they can converse.

Enter: Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist who has to figure out what their form of communication is and what they’re trying to say.

With a physicist (Jeremy Renner) and a government official (Forest Whitaker), she ventures in and, slowly, learns plenty about herself and the visitors.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival” is far more hopeful than “Independence Day” or any number of alien encounters. It relies on Banks’ humanity and Adams’ ability to make just about anything relatable.

Still mourning her daughter’s death, Banks is open to discovery and the world that plays home to two heptapods she dubs Abbott and Costello.

Staring into a hazy window, she recognizes repeating patterns, clues to what the visitors are trying to say.

Supposedly, other experts are breaking the code elsewhere but officials are reluctant to give them time to collaborate or share insight. The clock ticks, the governments get restless and, still, Banks is convinced she’s getting somewhere.

Interestingly, her dreams help inform the process.

Pulling back the curtain on her thoughts, Villeneuve helps audiences connect the dots.

“Arrival” isn’t as heartwarming as “E.T.” or as clever as “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” but it is far more hopeful than most alien invasion films. It says plenty about the power of the human mind and its ability to foreshadow and protect the very people they inhabit.

Adams is a perfect conduit to tell this story, even if Villeneuve does test his audience’s ability to stick with it. She’s as compelling as the aliens, eyes widening whenever they react to her overtures.

Fairly low-tech, the alien vehicles suggest a home that’s either less developed or more environmentally conscious. There’s a message they want to impart but it’s not as simple as deciphering five notes.

Moments suggest the journey Matt Damon goes on in “The Martian.” Others resemble “2001.”

The moral Villeneuve delivers, however, isn’t cryptic or defeating. It’s a hopeful sign that should allay any number of fears, from both human and alien sources.

While Whitaker isn’t given much to do and Michael Stuhlbarg is basically a stereotype, Renner is an ideal partner, able to complement Adams in all the best ways.