Arrival

Director: Denis Villeneuve (2016) BBFC cert: 12A

Prepare yourself for an epic close encounter in this cerebral sci-fi creature feature. It’s an astonishingly involving, wonderfully acted, technically dazzling and breathtakingly beautiful paean to the pain of existence.

Superb in every department, the intelligent design and gorgeous cinematography are graced by sympathetic editing which reflects the themes of the film. The storytelling of this masterful work constantly wrong foots our expectations to provide this years most profound emotional kick.

I staggered from the screening, aping exactly the stunned expressions of stars Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner after their first contact with alien lifeforms. I was not quite believing of the intensity or meaning of my experience, but I knew it was somehow glorious.

The arrival of an alien fleet on Earth causes global panic and the US government calls a state of emergency. Adams is tremendous as Dr. Louise Banks, a gifted linguist who is recruited by the US military and represents humanity’s best hope. Her mission is to communicate with the extra-terrestrial visitors and ascertain their purpose on our planet. She is aided by Renner’s theoretical physicist, Ian.

The lengthy first view of the monumental alien craft has a gobsmacking power. Humans are pitifully fragile before the enormous alien shell-like ship which gently hovers yards above the ground. This is merely a light jab to soften our senses before the hefty emotional punches Villeneuve lands on us later.

Inside the grey giant egg of a craft, the aliens appear through a shroud of mist,separated from their guests by an invisible wall. The giant squid-like beings have an elephantine hide, and their seven fingered form has echoes of some of the startling imagery in director Villeneuve’s Enemy (2013). They communicate through a sign language composed of inkblots, reminiscent of rorschach tests.

However time is running out as the Chinese and Russians rattle their sabres in the face of the perceived threat. Plus the anxious trigger fingers of the US military are ready with radiation suits, rifles, helicopters and high explosives.

The relatively few action moments are given power by a sharp script which touches upon our understanding of love, language, memory and time. There are elements of the Cold War stand-off and biblical allusions to the tower of Babel and Moses ascending Mount Sinai.

Along with her lead in Tom Ford’s masterful thriller Nocturnal Animals (2016), Adams has two of the plum lead roles of the year, a singular achievement for a forty-something actress in a notoriously youth-orientated Hollywood.

As her scientist sidekick, Renner demonstrates why he’s Hollywoods finest second fiddle. Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg offer strong, understated support as a US Colonel and an FBI Agent.

With communication and time key ideas, Arrival appropriately conducts its own dialogue with cinema. Combining the majesty of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) with the humour and humanity of Spielberg’s Close Encounter Of The Third Kind (1977), Arrival is a far more successful blend of the two masters than Spielberg’s own mesmerisingly flawed A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001). As well as his own films, Villeneuve includes a call back to the cult sci-fi Cold War thriller War Games (1983). This is the film Christopher Nolan can only dream of making.

The next film by Villeneuve is a sequel to Ridley Scott’s classic Blade Runner (1982), and it’s good to know it’s in the safest possible pair of hands.

But first you absolutely must see this one.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

 

Enemy

dir. Denis Villeneuve

Fantasy, identity and memory are twisted in this dark, expressionist, psychological thriller.

Sly and finely-crafted, it is based on José Saramago’s 2002 novel The Double.

There’s minimal dialogue and a mournful soundtrack while the absence of clocks and times add to the alienating atmosphere and contribute to a memorable finale.

After a chance conversation, history professor Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is caught in an opaque web of intrigue, mistrust and betrayal.

Stuck in a failing relationship with the beautiful Mary (Mélanie Laurent) Adam is a listless drone with a life of dull routine, failing to inspire his bored students with his lectures on the political denial of self expression.

Only his mother, Isabella Rossellini is concerned or interested in him, leaving voice mails he doesn’t respond to.

One day a casual exchange with a nameless colleague leads Adam to watching a locally filmed movie ‘Where There’s a Will There’s a way’.

It’s a colourful comedy, disturbing the Enemy’s carefully established austere mood. In the background Adam sees a bellboy, played by an actor who looks uncannily similar to himself.

Intrigued, Adam discovers he’s called Anthony Saint Claire (Gyllenhaal again) and hunts down his other movie appearances.

Anthony is signed to a local agency and when Adam visits their offices he’s mistaken for his doppelganger, exploiting the mistake to pick up a parcel intended for the actor.

Behaving like an excited stalker, Adam instigates a meeting with Anthony which develops into a confrontation.

They’re physically identical but different in attitude, lifestyle and crucially in relationships. Anthony’s pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) is suspicious of her husband – with very good reason.

With deft deliberation Nicolas Bolduc’s camera follows as character stalks character, capturing scenes in unhealthy yellow register and bold shadows.

Architecture is an oppressive character while cars are cocoons for their faceless, voiceless commuters as they drive around the stark cityscape.

Gyllenhaal’s character is a memorable addition to the cinematic gallery of actors portraying identical characters on screen, joining luminaries such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, even Elvis has done it

Made in 2013 it’s released now to capitalise on the success of Gyllenhaal’s excellent movie Nightcrawler.

It’s hard to believe the same creative team of Gyllenhaal and Villeneuve who made this were also responsible for 2013’s preposterous  thriller, Prisoners.

★★★★☆

Prisoners

dir. Denis Villeneuve

Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard are vigilante fathers fighting for justice in this damp, dull and silly thriller.

In this rain-drenched small town that seems to have a deranged individual twitching behind every curtain, there are a seemingly endless number of torture chambers.

Riddled with stupidity, inconsistency, alarming coincidence and a gun-toting granny, it corkscrews a path through plot-holes into a pit of preposterousness.

Survivalist carpenter Keller Dover (Jackman) and his neighbour Franklin Birch (Howard) are relaxing after sharing Thanksgiving dinner with their families.

Jackman pairs a ragged beard with a knitted frown and acts with a fist waving intensity while Howard gawps along with the audience.

As Dover’s wife Maria Bello has little to do but stagger in a pill-popping daze and Viola Davis as Mrs Birch is given less than that.

Their two young daughters fail to return home from playing outside and a desperate search begins for them.

As every cop in the state are brought in to hunt for the girls, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is assigned to lead the investigation and is known for never failing to solve a case.

Gyllenhaal is impressive as the tattooed and slick-haired cop, offering with wry humour the merest specks of light in the gathering gloom.

Keller tracks down the suspected killer himself, beating up the suspectAlex Jones (Paul Dano) and pleading with Franklin to interrogate him.

Brilliant British cinematographer Roger Deakins creates an air of bitter chill that emphasises the bleakness of tone but his talent is squandered on this material.

★★☆☆☆