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dir Denis Villeneuve
scr Eric Heisserer
prd Shawn Levy, David Linde, Karen Lunder, Aaron Ryder
with Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma, Mark O'Brien, Abigail Pniowsky, Carmela Nossa Guizzo, Julia Scarlett Dan, Max Walker, Christian Jadah, Julian Casey
release US/UK 11.Nov.16
16/Canada Sony 1h56
We are your friends: Adams
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
With an enormous suggestion about the potential of humanity, this darkly emotive science-fiction thriller grabs the audience by the brain and never lets go. So while the film feels somewhat overserious and densely packed, director Denis Villeneuve also offers huge rewards to viewers who pay close attention. And his actors deliver performances that burst with both intelligence and emotion.
Linguistics expert Louise (Adams) is struggling with grief over her teen daughter's death, so barely notices news reports that floating alien monoliths have appeared around the globe. Col Weber (Whitaker) visits her, asking for help in understanding the visitors' tonal language, so she heads to the object above Montana. There she's joined by scientist Ian (Renner) to attempt contact with these seven-tentacled creatures that can control gravity. But various nations around the world begin to disagree about what's happening here, and when they stop sharing their data, a march to military action seems inevitable.
Fittingly, the plot almost feels spurious as the film grapples with much bigger ideas about time and memory. This pulls the audience in without over-explaining details or blinding us with science. Instead, the story is told through the characters' emotional reactions, deeper interaction and the much larger implications. And it's almost literally mind-bending as it suggests a powerful connection between language and our perception of reality. Cleverly, while Heisserer's script does feel rather academic, its main focus is on deeper resonance.
Adams is remarkable in a demanding central role that only has a few moments of levity. She gives Louise a fierce tenacity as a woman who pushes herself to do a job correctly, regardless of obstacles both around and within her. Her interaction with the engaging Renner is terrific, a clash between language and science that finds unexpected common ground. Other characters merely flutter around the edges, although O'Brien registers strongly as a soldier who is thinking intensely about what he's witnessing. Alas, his character's story seems to have been lost in the editing.
Villeneuve directs this with an epic visual sensibility that plays down the special effects to focus on the human element. Most scenes are breathtakingly beautiful to look at, packed with a treasure trove of seemingly throwaway details. The scenes inside the ship are increasingly awe-inspiring in their simplicity, creating tension and even some real suspense without ever pushing things. And it's Villeneuve and Heisserer's determination to respect the viewer's intelligence that gives the film its biggest emotional wallop.
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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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