Quite an engrossing Lifetime movie-of-the-week detailing a real-life story of online seduction leading to murder with echoes of <i>Double Indemnity.</i> Anne Heche gives one of her best performances and Eric Roberts shows he has a sensitive side. Yes, they are the stars of this movie, Flixster has their facts wrong.
In 1950s Italy, a young woman who claims to have special skills dealing with troubled children is tested to her limit when she meets Jacob who has refused to speak for six months following the death of his concert pianist mother. The expansive estate location, with its red and green vine-covered walls, is a fantastic, eye-filling setting. So much for the good news. The story proceeds slow as molasses, We are told that the boy believes that his mother talks to him through the walls and the stone at the nearby quarry, subjecting us to an endless string of people with their ears pressed to walls with desperate searching looks on their faces. Clearly there is something worse than watching paint dry and that's listening to it, an exercise in cinematic futility only reminding me too much of the wall-watching scenes that killed tension in 'The Darkness'. Not that this is a suspense movie, because truly I do not know what kind of overall effect the director is going for. It's a fractured family drama punctuated by moments that suggest possible hypnosis, drugging, ghosts, or even witchcraft, but I can't be sure about any of those except one. In fact I seriously doubt that anyone but the screenwriter can tell me exactly what really happens, but what ended up on screen plays out like a fifth-rate Poe imitation.
I love Emilia Clarke, but in all honesty she is only a decent and not great actress. She tries her best but isn't going to elevate the material in the way that Nicole Kidman did with a similar role in 'The Others'. She isn't helped at all by the perpetually morose Martin Csokss as Jacob's father, whose shifting opinion from liking to disliking her presence only seems to exist in order to send the story in a different direction. Take his sudden decision that she looks a lot like his dead wife (which she doesn't at all) in order to get her to pose nude for his unfinished sculpture, another scene beautifully shot but completely gratuitous. You'd think this was a Weinstein project where Harvey had threatened to end production "unless that dragon lady gets naked."
Glossy production values undone by unsatisfying drama. Marion Cotillard wears a passively worried face throughout as the tiltular Polish Immigrant forced into selling her body to make money to secure the release of her sister at the Ellis Island infirmary. She is enabled in this pursuit by the predatory Joaquin Phoenix, whose off-the-handle acting seems several decades out of time, but give him points for elfort. Appearing as an all-tooconvenient wedge between them is Phoenix' magician cousin Jeremy Renner who takes a shine to the shy newcomer. Their conflict feels forced and phony, met with a particularly laughable conclusion. Eye-catching costumes & turn-of-the-century.period detail though.
If our first contact with an alien race turns out to be as boring as this movie, then I hope it doesn't happen. Big disappointment considering the nominations, which makes it one of the most overrated movies of 2016. Their ships look stupid, the aliens themselves look stupider, and there's generally a lack of awe at this event. Only Jeremy Renner shows any signs of life, everyone else is sleepwalking including Amy Adams who is blander than Top 40 radio. She's a highly skilled linguist recruited by the military to communicate with these aliens, but none of her studying makes any difference as her only breakthroughs occur through memory flashes interacting with her daughter. Naturally the military gets trigger-happy solely in order to inject some form of tension which is utterly predictable. There's a fairly nifty revelation at the very end, but it's relied upon far too heavily to have a Shyamalan effect and cannot salvage the dreary experience until then. I enjoy heady sci-fi like Ex Machina and Interstellar as recent examples, but Arrival comes up well short with the only truly clever aspects being the aliens' writing method and the title. Opt for another viewing of Close Encounters instead.