Short version: Arrival is smart, in the actually-smart sense of the term. Linguists are going to spontaneously orgasm over this film, if they haven’t already. No spoilers here, and try to avoid looking them up. Go see: they actually made a movie about learning a new language that’s in fact watchable.
Slightly longer review: Do you know what bugs me about Hollywood? It’s not the dumb movies. Many people like dumb movies, and they have every right to like dumb movies, and they think that some of the movies that I like are dumb too so who said I get to be the decider? And it’s not the shoddy movies, either. Not everybody has the same level of cinematic skill.
No, what bugs me is when Hollywood jerks itself awake from having a nap, visibly remembering Oh, hey, it’s time to toss out a smart, clever, and well-drawn science fiction movie, does so… and then goes back to sleep. I was absolutely engrossed by Arrival. It pushed my own linguistic buttons (I did learn some theory, back when I was an undergrad). I am extremely glad that I didn’t seek out spoilers. It will probably be one of the go-to films when we talk about depictions of First Contact scenarios in cinema. There’s not a chance in Hell that Hollywood will keep that particular creative team together and have them make a half-dozen more smart and well-drawn science fiction movies.
PS: Even the CIA guy wasn’t an idiot!