Here’s an optimistic science-fiction tale that tells an engrossing story about mankind’s worst tendencies—selfishness, suspicion, aggression—threatening to overtake our best ones. When aliens arrive suddenly in what could be attack formation, renowned linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), aided by a simpatico theoretical physicist (Jeremy Renner), is summoned to decipher their language and determine their threat level. Though the circumstances are perilous, it’s not an Independence Day kind of film. Instead, director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario) emphasizes the scientific process, striving to put the events in a real-world context. Yet the film (expanded by screenwriter Eric Heisserer from Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life”) is not dour. It has sequences that exist just to fill us with wonderment, and no coyness about showing the aliens (after a terrific build-up and reveal, that is). But the film’s greatness is in its heart. The aliens’ mission and technology dovetail sublimely with Louise’s personal quests—the dreamy prologue shows her mourning a death—bringing symmetry to the story and grounding it in relatable experiences and fears. This is poignant, personal sci-fi at its best.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Producer: Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder, David Linde, Stan Wlodkowski, Eric Heisserer, Dan Cohen, Karen Lunder, Tory Metzger and Milan Popelka
Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark O'Brien, Tzi Ma, Abigail Pniowsky, Julia Dan, Jadyn Malone, Frank Schorpion and Nathaly Thibault