Prisoners Movie

Arrival

arrival

Arrival (2016) – Science Fiction | Drama

Directed by: Denis Villenueve

Starring: Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner

How I Watched: Theatres

Best Line: “Language is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.”

The events of the last two weeks have been rough on a lot of us. No matter which way you would like to slice it, the truth is that the world has fundamentally changed. Some of us are clinging to reality in a strange existential fog while others are sitting back and waiting to see what will happen. I’m not suggesting that writer Eric Heisserer and director Denis Villenueve saw the future when making Arrival, but I think it’s safe to suggest that they did a good job tapping into the anger, frustration and confusion floating like a cloud above our planet right now.

On the surface, Arrival is a pretty hard Sci-Fi film, borrowing elements from some of the most revered movies in the genre. For those who don’t know, the movie begins with an “arrival” as 12 mysterious and enormous objects suddenly appear across the globe without any apparent intentions. The US government enlists the help of language expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to perhaps obtain this intent. The film is unapologetic with its use of aliens and these are some of the better aliens I’ve ever seen. When it comes down to it though, Arrival  is a pretty great drama.

Those that have seen Amy Adams in movies like DoubtThe Fighter and American Hustle know that she can handle herself in a dramatic role. This however, is something different. Adams absolutely owns this film, delivering an incredibly heartbreaking performance that is both devastating and thought-provoking in the most mind-fucking way possible. We’ve all seen Inception and we’ve all experienced the occasional Shyamalan twist, but what Arrival gives us is a whole new meaning to crazy.

I’ve only seen a couple of Villenueve’s movies (I haven’t seen Sicario yet – I know, I’m just the worst), but Prisoners rocked my world with its twist-filled darkness. Enemy with Jake Gylenhaal is probably more closely related to Arrival with its utterly bothersome climax. Something that Villenueve is definitely great at though, is using darkness to stun his audience. Like David Lynch, his movies are dark, muted and a bit relentless in the shock value. There’s plenty of shock in Arrival so be prepared.

Speaking of shock, holy shit, the aliens. I won’t go too far into it, but the Lovecraftian brilliance that they put into these things was astounding. I talked to a friend last night that also saw the movie and he described them as “a big bucket of nope.” While I can see why someone would say that, I wanted to see more of them. Perhaps though, how Villenueve presented them was perfect, as their appearances did not take away from the incredible storyline either. However, if aliens frighten you, I’d stay away from this one.

The most important part of Arrival to me was the narrative concerning international relations. Amid the invasion, the countries in which a ship landed each investigated the ships in their own way. As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that each country does not agree on how these ships should be handled, which leads to an all-out international crisis. This hit way too close for home for me, as my fears for how the world is currently treating itself looked a lot like this. I know, I know, it’s a movie about aliens, but this really struck a chord in me that I was not expecting walking into the theater.

I was a little stunned to find as much meaning as I did from Arrival. While it’s a really cool science fiction movie about aliens making first contact, it cleverly delivers a statement about the shape the world is in right now. I enjoy the way Denis Villenueve works and absolutely expect Arrival to shake things up this awards season. Science-Fiction is not generally treated very well at the Academy, but movies that have something to say with relevance about us as a species generally do. So don’t be shocked when this one gets heaped up toward the top.

Final Score: 4/4

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Similar Films: Enemy, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, War of the Worlds

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Prisoners

prisoners-film

Prisoners (2013) – Thriller | Drama

Directed by: Denis Villenueve

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman

How I Watched: DVD

Best Line: “They didn’t cry until I left them.”

I don’t know what it is, but Jake Gyllenhaal does a wonderful job slipping himself into fantastically creepy films. From Donnie Darko, to Nightcrawler, to Villenueve’s own Enemy, he always seems to be somewhere on the bill in these type of films. Now, if you saw Enemy, you might be expecting Prisoners to be REALLY weird. It’s not, but it’s got enough of that Lynchian, otherwordly line-walking to make you want to turn on the lights.

Prisoners is not a feel good movie. I will tell you that now. It’s dark as hell, mostly brown and grey throughout and the characters are permanently scared and/or yelling the whole movie. But holy shit, is it vicious. From the onset, Hugh Jackman quietly utters the lord’s prayer as a deer takes its last breaths and it does not let up from there. Every scene seems to be bathed in a perpetual dusk that the entire cast seems trapped in. It’s a very claustrophobic film that is precise in its efforts of making you feel like shit. I can really see a lot of people not being able to handle some scenes in this one.

If you watch the trailer for Prisoners, you can tell what this story is about, so no worries about this spoiler. Two families lose their daughters in the middle of the day and Gyllenhaal investigates their disappearance. Hugh Jackman is Hugh Jackman in this one, and you get about what you expect from an ‘unsettled Jackman’ performance. However, Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano are magnificent and really carry the film. Dano does his best “creepy guy in a van” at the beginning, but as time passes, he becomes so much more than that. His soft-spoken demeanor is terribly discomforting beneath those wire glasses that are so typical in child-kidnapping films.

Gyllenhaal, though is really the barometer of the film’s emotion. From the beginning, the viewer is challenged to make a choice between Jackman’s outbursts as a frantic father and the situation that Dano finds himself in after the girls disappear. Gyllenhaal is always there, dividing the two parties, testing your limits as a viewer. It’s not a simple choice to make and the movie does everything in its power to throw your emotions into a blender.

The rest of the cast is just kind of there, though. This is perhaps the film’s greatest flaw. Both Jackman’s wife (played by Maria Bello) and the other mother in the film (Viola Davis) are understandably grieving the whole film, but that’s really all they do. Terrence Howard attempts to show emotion, but it’s not very convincing. Melissa Leo is pretty good as Dano’s aunt, but again, Dano and Gyllenhaal really steal this one away from everyone else.

At times, Prisoners really rides the line of the supernatural. Not ghosts and witches, but more like the end of the first season of True Detective; that awful feeling that I know you got when the detectives entered Carcosa in the finale is present in a few scenes in this film. It does not really stick to that, but still, Villenueve definitely has some skill in discomfort.

I feel bad about this, but I did not see Villenueve’s 2015 Sicario. Trust me, I really want to, I just have not gotten around to it yet. Seeing that he is taking the helm for Blade Runner 2 (due out 2017) makes me really excited, though. Enemy was an awfully creepy little story full of doppelgangers and Kafka-esque suggestions that will fit into the Blade Runner universe perfectly.

While I definitely would not suggest Prisoners if the kiddies are around or you had a rough day at the office, it’s perfect for those nights where you want to watch a scary movie that’s not that kind of scary movie. The performances from Gyllenhaal and Dano are excellent and while the story was a few hairs away from being epic, it’s a moral brain-twister that will have you talking when the credits roll.

Final Score: 3.5/4

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Similar Films: Mystic River, The Lovely Bones, Zodiac