Arrival is a thinking human’s alien-invasion movie. The mood is austere, the story oblique (at first), and the invading aliens are somewhat obscured by a home-world mist they’ve brought down to Earth with them. Serious humans will be happy to know there’s no cheap sci-fi action.
All of this is a little problematic, though. Director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners) is impressively committed to maintaining the picture’s somber atmosphere, and he does as much as was probably possible to control the story’s tricky structure. He also draws appropriately muted performances from his stars, Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, who are allowed only flickers of humor as the knotty plot unloops. The result of all this restraint, unfortunately, is to lend the film an air of sterility that slightly diffuses our interest, especially in the middle sections, writes Kurt Loder.