James V. Hart
Directed by Robert Zemeckis and based on Carl Sagan's novel, Contact was a 1997 science-fiction film about a scientist (played by Jodie Foster) who makes a groundbreaking discovery when listening to radio frequencies coming from space as the world finally takes notice of her lifelong research.
The film was well received by critics and audiences alike back in the late 90's and, today, it's easy to see how it influenced the likes of Interstellar (which also starred Matthew McConaughey) and Arrival, among others.
Unlike your typical sci-fi blockbuster about extraterrestrial life, Contact took inspiration from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and focused predominantly on the Earth-set prelude to the central discovery and its aftermath, never straying too far from the emotional and intellectual conflicts the main characters face. Along with a third act sequence that's definitely out-there, Contact aims to tell a very human story about science's relationship with faith so, while it boasts some terrific cinematography, it's hardly a spectacle until the ending and this sober approach might alienate (no pun intended) those viewers expecting something in the vein of, say, Independence Day.
We follow Dr. Ellie Arroway's (Foster) story from childhood, when her relationship with her father was tragically cut short, to her career-driven adult life, all the way to the ends of the galaxy and back. Foster gives a pitch-perfect, layered performance as Ellie and the supporting cast, which includes James Woods and John Hurt, along with McConaughey's Christian philosopher/love interest, is excellent also.
The way in which the message received from space is gradually decoded and is interpreted by various characters throughout is fascinating, especially seeing as the first image they uncover is controversial. Ellie faces countless obstacles on the way towards her goal, even afterwards, and, by the end of the film, there's something comforting about seeing how much that character has grown. In terms of the science/faith debate, the film seems to promote a balance between the two rather than pick a clear side and that was probably a wise move, though it won't please everyone.
Contact may not be an action film but what it lacks in big, exciting set-pieces, it makes up for in great writing, storytelling and performances. This is sci-fi more along the lines of 2001: A Space Odyssey and it has a certain amount of depth, though it thankfully never feels too pretentious for its own good.
A must for any fan of sci-fi.