A noted linguist (Amy Adams) grieves for her teenage daughter, who has died of cancer, but that personal tragedy gets knocked into perspective when a dozen alien spaceships land at seemingly random locations around the world. Summoned by the army, the professor partners with a genial theoretical physicist (Jeremy Renner, miscast) to make contact with the visitors, who look like giant octopuses and communicate by throwing ink patterns into the air. This solemn drama lands on the New Agey end of the SF spectrum, but the special effects are potent: the alien vessels are giant black disks that hover just over the ground like ominous eggs, and their interiors are endless quadrilateral tunnels where gravity can reverse itself. Director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario
) draws on Close Encounters of the Third Kind
for his portrayal of scientists and soldiers groping for answers and, more generally, of the celestial playing out in highly personal terms. With Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg.