This review does not contain spoilers.
It's also going to be very short, because the majority of the things one wants to say after seeing Denis Villeneuve's Arrival would surely count as spoilers, any of which would undermine the experience Villeneuve created for us. The post-release discussion on Arrival's gonna be a doozy - it's likely we'll be pulling apart this movie for some time - but for now I will say nothing more than is absolutely necessary.
Is a plot discussion necessary? Only in the barest of terms. If you've seen the trailer, you already have the basic premise: one day, a dozen extraterrestrial craft land on Earth, and hotshot linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams, in one of her best performances) is brought in to find a way to communicate with them. She's joined by a scientist named Ian (Jeremy Renner, similarly excellent), and their work together is overseen by the stubborn Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker, who brings depth to what would've been a largely one-note character in a lesser actor's hands). Also along for the ride: an increasingly impatient CIA spook named Halpern (frequent MVP Michael Stuhlbarg). Their work together does not go as planned.
What else can I tell you?
In the great Villeneuve tradition, Arrival is beautiful (shout-out to Bradford Young, who shot the hell out of this movie and will soon bring his considerable talents to the Star Wars franchise), cold, mysterious, and has more going on under the hood than you might initially expect. At this point, I think you're either onboard with the type of film Villeneuve makes or you're not - in that way, his work reminds me of Ben Wheatley's - and Arrival will not change that. It will only confirm how you already feel.
For me, Arrival reiterates Villeneuve's enormous talent (no, I'm not prepared to do a new Villeneuve ranking yet). I'm also impressed by the script by Eric Heisserer, which manages the seemingly impossible feat of faithfully adapting Ted Chiang's unusually-structured novella ("The Story Of Your Life")...while also kind of improving on it? Impressive. The real question is how general audiences will respond to the game Heisserer and Villeneuve are playing, but I feel very confident that sci-fi fans are gonna go bananas for it.
Arrival isn't just one of the best films of 2016 (and a strong contender for best overall), it's one of the best science fiction films of the past decade, ferociously smart and deeply emotional. It is precisely what I was hoping it would be, and feels like just the blast of fresh air the back half of this year needs, cinematically-speaking.
I'll say no more, and you should read no more. See Arrival the minute it opens on November 11th and we'll reconvene to talk about it then.