This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Harry Ridgway’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
The adventurous gusto and Herculean scope is what's most absorbing about Robert Zemeckis's Contact. A virtuoso in sweeping stories and fantastical journeys, Zemeckis seems right at home in the science-fiction department where he's given free rein with his creativity and magic. He uses mind boggling technical work and vibrant vistas as instruments in his quest for exploring the limits of imagination -- asking questions and laying out scenarios that only the highly imaginative concoct in their wildest dreams, which makes for a unique experience to say the least. What helps Contact detach from the dejectedly influential and mediocre Sci-Fi efforts of today is its firmness to remain seated in reality whilst obtaining an ambition to fly high into the stratosphere. We visit numerous locations throughout this 150 minute escapade, but what Zemeckis and Carl Sagan hold as most important is a sense of plausibility, and they undoubtedly succeed at stamping this trait at the forefront of their picture. It's a stimulating, brilliant piece of movie making.
Nothing feels misplaced here. Introductory scenes of our main lead Dr. Eleanor Arroway as a motherless child are both stirring and relevant for later. Scenes featuring religious advocate Palmer Joss fit in nicely and correlate with the bigger themes of science very well. All moments feel like stepping stones and all scenes feel mobile; it's only after the film is over that you realize what a fabulous flow has been created in the sequence of events, which never slows down and is never insipid. A great touch from Zemeckis is the feeling of working towards something; an end goal. The films incremental compass and palpable tension and mystery builds with every second of the picture, gradually growing and never halting, which makes for a thrilling ride.
Our adventurous heroine in Contact dreams the big dream and for that, we heavily admire her. Dr. Eleanor's pursuit for extra-terrestrial proof is packed with adversity such as her cynical boss David Drumlin stopping her program and the years she has spent with no evidence to flaunt in the faces of her doubters. These sections of struggle and downfall correctly last not too long but just long enough for us to gain a firm understanding of how much this quest for proof has consumed Eleanor's life. Ever since she was young her dream has been to make contact -- with whom she doesn't mind I'm sure, but she only wishes for a relief of loneliness and aimlessness.
It's no spoiler to reveal Eleanor's miraculous discovery of extra-terrestrial life. Her unearthing of such startling information sends a good proportion of the world into hysterics, and thus this is where the films purpose, debates and themes begin to bloom. How would our modern day population react to the news of alien contact? Well, it seems that some would react with humor (as we see Jay Leno on TV performing his usual shtick but about aliens), some with downright madness and some with rational and scientific viewpoints. Also raised is the battle and eternal tug-of-war between the perspectives of religion and science. If we were to send one person on an intergalactic mission to represent Earth, would their standing on faith and religion matter?
Throughout the bustling proceedings, the film rightfully maintains our main heroine Dr. Eleanor at the center of the piece with all events revolving around her and her feelings/beliefs. One big advantage of the picture is our profound liking for Jodi Foster in the role of Dr. Eleanor. Foster's steely determination and fortitude which she injects into the character of Eleanor makes for nothing less than a mesmerizing performance. Supporting roles are pleasantly filled with the great, newly crowned Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey as Eleanor's love interest Palmer Joss. His take on the religious Palmer is subtle and passionate making for a sympathetic character. Others such as Tom Skerritt, Jena Malone, William Fichtner, James Woods, John Hurt and the sorely underrated David Morse all perform superlatively and create fascinating presences.
From a bird's eye view, Contact looks ambiguous about what it could be or where it could go, and that was the joy for me. Not knowing what the 150 minutes could possibly hold was what initially peaked my interest in the film. The epic build up existent right from the soaring opening sequence doesn't release its grip once. The way circumstances become more and more fantastical yet still keep their feet firmly planted on the ground is a true achievement. I was struck by how ambitious and bold the film was; I don't think I've seen a film with this much scope and exploration since my viewing of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and that is truly saying something. Dr. Eleanor certainly ranks high on the list of favourite heroines, exuding an unbreakable willpower like few other characters. And certainly this inspirational, valiant, vivid and in the end immensely moving creation is one of my favourtie films; rarely do movies with such burning purpose and steadfastness come along.
"Do you think there are people on other planets?"
"I don't know. But if it's just us, it would be an awful waste of space."