Directed By: Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Tzi Ma

It's been one hell of a week.  For the better part of it, I've been sleepless and sick to my stomach as I reflect on bizarre, hateful turn of political events.  It truly pains me to accept that Donald J. Trump will be moving into the White House toward the end of January.  It's absolutely befuddling.  America is speaking two languages, one of love and respect for our fellow man and the other of vitriol and hatred.  With all that's played out, a movie like Arrival about understanding aliens who communicate in a very different way than we do sounds pitch perfect for the kind of a week we've all had.  After all, language is the cornerstone of our society, and we live in two very different Americas.  To make things even better, the film is the latest in a string of successes by Prisoners and Sicario director Denis Villeneuve.

Twelve giant pods of unknown origin have landed at a dozen different locations around the globe causing worldwide panic.  One just so happens to have landed in the state of Montana.  Linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) carries out her life as usual, until it becomes unusual.  Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), a high ranking military official, pays Louise a visit and informs her that alien life has been found on these pods.  He also informs her that he needs someone with her particular set of skills to learn how to communicate with these aliens and understand why they're here.  With the help of scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Louise is to make contact with the aliens and find a way to break the barriers of oral and verbal communication to figure out what is happening.  Meanwhile, Louise has memories of raising a daughter she never had.

Grandly envisioned, subtly executed, and beautifully acted, Arrival is by far the most thought-provoking science fiction film to grace the big screen this year.  Gradually tossing out nuggets of information, director Denis Villeneuve constantly teases and challenges his audience to think outside the box.  All the while, he builds this increasingly complex vision of an expanded universe that challenges our notions of time, gravity, and even language.  Making the film especially timely, the key to unlocking the mysteries that define Arrival is communicating with one another.  Villeneuve serves up an elaborate narrative befitting the genre, one whose conclusion absolutely no moviegoer can predict.  This strong narrative is really the foundation of a terrific movie like Arrival, a movie after which you'll have plenty of good questions.  Simply put, Villeneuve delivers fascinating, intelligent sci-fi.

Nuance is an art in Villeneuve's films, and that's once again apparent here in Arrival.  It's most apparent in his exploration of two major themes in the film — time and language.  As it relates to time, the big revelation hits us towards the film's climax.  As I look back at the film, he builds up to the core concepts and mythology by adding details to the film and to Louise's journey that help to open our eyes as moviegoers to all sorts of possibilities.  All the while, he's setting the stage for his big narrative move.  The other big theme that fittingly dominated the film is language and communicating with one another.  Nuance is everything in trying to break down the barriers of communication.  Words, sounds, and body language become critical and speak volumes throughout the film.  Villeneuve plays on this to really build quite a bit of the film's suspense, leaving us hanging on every word decrypted or translated as this sci-fi drama twists and turns.

The cast delivers a string of beautiful performances.  First and foremost, Amy Adams reminds us that she is a superb actress in her turn as this conflicted, surprisingly introverted character Louise Banks.  Adams gives us one tortured soul with a passion for connecting with others.  At the same time, there's this unmistakable emptiness that defines her character, and she is motivated to see what's really driving this void in her life.  For his part as scientist Ian Donnelly, Jeremy Renner serves as Louise's emotional and moral support throughout this entire crisis.  Though they have a contentious chemistry on screen, it gradually softens and subtly becomes something more.  Finally, we have Forest Whitaker as the prickly Colonel Weber.  He delivers a black-and-white military official with no cut cards.

gets a strong 0.03% rating.  Despite grand visuals, grey cinematography, and a triumphant score, the film's defining hallmarks are its strong narrative, its nuanced direction, and its beautiful acting.  Have some wine coolers with this one.