Genre: Drama, Science Fiction.
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma, Mark O’Brien.
Year Of Release: 2016
Certificate: 12A (UK)/PG-13 (US)
Runtime: 116 Minutes
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Synopsis: “A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.” IMDB
I left the cinema a little confused and greatly under-whelmed. I also got frustrated once I dissected the film at home because I saw it was a “critically acclaimed” science fiction masterpiece. Now, either I am way out of touch as to what is a “critically acclaimed” film, or we live in a world where, basically, the right people receive all the big acclaims, because people are too scared to appear out of touch by giving it a negative review.
Denis Villeneuve gave us some great like ‘Sicario’ and ‘Prisoners’ in their own genre – they were powerful, had a clear message and great acting. Here, for the sci-fi take, I find that while he has a good eye for shots, a knack for bringing together a good cast and crew, everything else fell flat from the overall story to the messages within.
Maybe I’m missing the bigger picture, I don’t know, but all I experienced was a slow and steady start which worked in places thanks to the introduction of characters and a nice reveal of the spaceships gradually – and all based on Earth, no shots in space or universes etc. The middle picks up as we get into the meat of things, feeling the pressure from world powers racing to decipher these 12 crafts and their language used; are they here for peace or war? But the third act, good god – that went off on one and gave me scenarios I found boring and resolutions I just did NOT understand or get in the overall arc. I knew why they were there, but I didn’t understand them, and to leave a film not understanding the finale or the conclusion to the main plot, that makes me disappointed.
We have a good cast with Amy Adams leading the way as a woman doing a job she loves but dealing with a lot of hurt in her heart. She’s wonderfully restrained here, never going into a typical sci-fi screaming/dramatic female lead racing against time, and she is a fine actress and very watchable. Jeremy Renner leaves the tough-guy role and instead is just there as good support, for both Adams as us as a thinking audience as he thinks with us. And Forest Whitaker gets under your skin as a hard-edged military colonel, making it quite nice seeing him act in a “tough guy” role for a change.
The actors are all fine, as is the crew – the film looks wonderful, and doesn’t have choppy edits or bleak framing. The soundtrack is uncomfortable and eerie thanks to Jóhann Jóhannsson, and everything on screen feels important thanks to Roger Deakins stand-in Bradford Young as cinematographer. The imposing sight of the spacecraft over land and sea is chilling; less is more in this case. Even the aliens, as most CGI as you’d expect, are restrained and not over-used to the point of ridicule. Using that word, it’s a very restrained sci-fi effort, with focus more on humanity and our way of communicating with top grade technology that works both for and against us depending how we choose to use it.
But this doesn’t give me reason to lavish “critical acclaim” on a film that tries to be too clever, and makes us feel stupid if we don’t “get it”. And then it makes me feel stupid, as I said, if I don’t get it at all. There is obviously a message in there somewhere about humanity and how we are the real “villains” when compared to aliens, or something, but with an ending that confused the hell out of me as well as being all to convenient and boarding on the whole time-travel/mind-bending/super-power riff, it lost me and I found it hard to invest in the outcome sadly. I went in not knowing what to expect, but left wishing I hadn’t really wasted 2hrs in finding out there was nothing much to expect in the first place.