The alien spacecraft in “Arrival” arrive by the dozen, each looming, egg-sliced-in-half-shaped wonder looking like a kitchen gadget writ large. All around the globe, their contents a mystery to paranoid earthlings, the visitors hover just above the planet’s surface. Why have they come? Will the U.S. military and other nations give peace a chance?
“Arrival” might frustrate or confuse some viewers. At the start, we hear Amy Adams, as Louise, in voice-over, speaking to her daughter. But the girl dies, leaving Louise alone and the father out of the picture.
Louise is a linguistics professor and translation whiz, and “Arrival” sets up its increasingly tricky narrative beautifully. The alien vehicles arrive; the world freaks out; the U.S. military, personified by gently intense Forest Whitaker, shows up at her office door out of nowhere, sussing out Louise’s interest in learning how to crack the (literally) otherworldly beeps, pops and guttural sounds emitted by the visitors. Jeremy Renner plays Louise’s partner in research. They’re helicoptered to where one spacecraft hovers, motionless, just above a field in Montana.
The mystery builds scene by scene. Many of the most effective passages are paced deliberately, although at times, deliberate becomes static.
“Arrival” will captivate some and discombobulate others, but it’s worth seeing. And in its central idea — not to be discussed here, sorry — the old saw “no time like the present” takes on new shadings.
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language. 1:56. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.