Arrival tells a familiar tale of the world’s nations coming together to face unexpected first contact with extraterrestrial visitors. Director Denis Villeneuve’s (Sicario) realistic approach to the familiar premise has been handled with a strong sense of realism and emotional tension, allowing the viewing experience to feel refreshingly rich.

After 12 strange spaceships land around the world, Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker) of the U.S. military recruits Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a distinguished linguistics professor, to aid a team of experts in communicating with the alien species aboard one of the 12 vessels.

Banks quickly forms a comradery with Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a theoretical physicist, who lightens the mood with his likeable personality and genuine nature. The pair make it their goal to discover and learn the language of the extraterrestrials, while under constant pressure from the U.S. government and other nations that may have different intentions on how to handle the vessels in their lands.

Adams’ performance as Banks is raw, but never overpowering. Any emotional tension stirred up throughout some of the film’s more serious moments shows her realistic portrayal of Banks. In addition, Renner, along with the rest of the cast, contributes to the tension of the film with believable performances that heighten the sense of realism within the plot.

The dialogue between characters is one of the most refined features of the film. No information is flatly given to the audience, but conversations are clear and written well enough for anyone to follow along. Although the terminology used to discuss the scientific aspects of the story can be a bit much, most of them are amply described or referred to multiple times ensuring comprehension.

The plot of the film wastes no time in letting the audience know what is at stake. A slow pace can be the downfall for many films, but here it plays an essential role to create a mysterious atmosphere that is, at times, unsettling. This is why the discoveries that Banks and Donnelly make feel earned and never like cheap plot-moving devices.

Ultimately, the film’s progression lends itself to the possibility of a spectacular ending, but the twist that occurs within the last quarter of the film has more of an impact than any explosion-fueled intergalactic battle could.

Villeneuve’s take on the science fiction genre is a modern classic that packs an emotional punch thanks, in part, to an incredibly strong performance from Adams.

4/4 Shells