“Arrival”

What would it be like to have no beginning, middle, or end? What language might support a non-linear way of relating to the world?  Would living without a goal be ecstatically supported? Would grief be eradicated, or at least made easier to bear?

Philosophically, these ideas are just brushed once across the canvas of Director Denis  Villeneuve’s sci-film “Arrival”. What is done is that we are toyed  with flash-forwards instead of flashbacks. It is tricky, inventive and confusing. We hear our protagonist say, “Memory is a strange thing. We Are bound by time and its order.” Then we see hazy dream-like images: a baby, a small girl. We hear the phrase, ” Come back to me.” The viewer is set up to think we are in a flashback: that Prof. Banks has lost her daughter to illness is implied. We again hear a voice over: “I’m not sure I believe in beginnings and endings, or in moments that design your life.”

Amy Adams is perfect as Dr. Louise Banks. Her facial structure easily bends to curiosity, apprehension, and awe. Unlike Adam’s role in ” Nocturnal Animals”, we can see her thinking. She is a linguist of the highest calibre. Her inductive reasoning skills are fun to watch; and,  her controlled emotional responses to both her daughter’s illness, her divorce, and her mother’s telephone calls are universally relatable. Picking her battles wisely, she can hold her own politically and in the classroom.

We were told that Louise’s first husband was a scientist. We think  she lost a daughter, Hannah. When physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) falls in love with Louise’s bravery, brains, and compassion, we think she has a chance to start over. Then, we come to understand that Hannah will be their child.

The script written by Eric Hesserer is based on one of Chinese-American sci-fi writer Ted Chiang’s 1998 short stories. The extraterrestials are tentacled octopi. They use inkblot images to converse. They arrive in huge, spherical,  gray eggs, composition unknown. Confusion  over translations  “offer tool” or “use weapon” causes much of the world tension. A renown linguist is needed to ask why they have come. Besides, “language is the first weapon drawn in  a conflict.”

“Arrival” ‘s first forty minutes are well-paced and engrossing: clouds whip and cellos sound. The mid-section lags and  feels repetitive. The script does not lead us anywhere but to the maxim that the world needs to work together in the interest of humanity. The aliens have delivered twelve puzzle pieces to countries around the globe: China, Somalia, Russia and Pakistan are singled out for their contributions and world view. The United States and Russia are diplomatically drawn, too.

Besides the superb acting of an oft  pony-tailed Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker add something special to the cast. Renner,  a former make-up artist and singer, now actor and producer, starred in “The Hurt Locker”. Here he both charms, is charmed and vomits on camera. Whitaker, stellar in “The Crying Game” and “The Last King of Scotland”, knows how to mobilize his team.

Enjoy all the circular logograms, the non-linear typography,and the way another civilization prepares  for the next 3,000 years by gifting its language.

“Sicario”

Real chemistry can be seen between Benicio del Toro and Emily Blunt in “Sicario” , a thriller/revenge morality tale. The CIA,the FBI and the Columbian and Mexican drug cartels make for grisly images,procedural tinkerings, and “big picture” overviews of anti-drug soldiering. Situational ethics move with the clouds ,and you have never heard a better score, composed by Johann Johannsson and  some tracks performed by the Bucharest Symphony. I really liked this film. It is as complicated and as hellish as any war, and as nerve shattering. The pace under the direction of Denis Villeneuve is perfection. There is little dialogue,yet Taylor Sheridan has written a tight story that forces us to understand evil and its ramifications. The film’s transitions are superb. ” Be Alert, be vigilant, be aware” becomes the viewers’ mantra as it does our protagonist Kate’s.

Kate is an FBI agent with tactical experience who volunteers for an interagency task force with a crafty CIA agent named Matt ( Josh Brolin). Accompanied with music deep, dark and bass, a black caravan of Tahoes enter Juarez, Mexico. We see dangling and dismembered bodies,hear helicopter blades beat dread and fear, and realize that eight dead bodies on the borderline “won’t even make the paper in El Paso”.

Kate learns that she is being used as a decoy to trap agents on the take. In the “Wild Pony” bar, Kate dances and drinks only to fight for her life as part of the team. The “team” creates chaos and balances the score. They find a major tunnel, but understand that nothing will be where it is today. The scenes of border madness are amazing. Bus loads of migrant workers are interrogated and transported.

As Kate longs for the objective of their mission, Alejandro (del Toro) speaks of the Mexican cartel leader Manuel Diaz as a killer of thousands either killed by his hand or his blessing. He explains to Kate that killing him would be like finding a vaccine. Kate realizes that the FBI is not even scratching the surface. Only chickens and mules cross the drug land without money changing hands.

Benicio del Toro does his best work to date. He is tender and extremely violent. If “Sicario” means “zealot” in Jerusalem and “hitman” in Mexico, Alejandro is both. His violence is horrendous and personal. The action keeps moving along with the boundaries and the bad men. The music is often dirge like. The storm brewing makes use of dark skies and thunder. Thermal cameras are used to cinematic advantage. Natural sun sets contrast with the unnatural, like wives and children being shot or thrown into vats of acid. When Del Toro tells Blunt that she is “not a wolves’ wolf and this is a land of wolves”,we understand.

The final shot of children playing soccer amidst the crack of gunfire leaves its mark,too. Yet,prepare to see gray in all its variations while you are at the edge of your seat throughout this amazing film.