Director: Alex Garland
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno, Symara A. Templeman, Claire Selby
Rated: R (graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence)
A young programmer is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in synthetic intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breath-taking humanoid A.I.
By Matt Greene
Maybe I’m jaded by an over-consumption of entertainment and media, but I rarely see a film that actually affects the way I view the world. Ex Machina, an Under the Skin meets a-darker-and-more-pessimistic-Her, did. It asks age old scifi questions: Our humanity makes us worthwhile, but what makes us human? At your core, what makes you…you? It’s a spine-tingling mystery-thriller full of intrigue and imminent dread that’s heady themes and heavy ambience are so good it’s hard to believe without seeing.
Gleeson plays a young coder who’s invited to spend a week with an eccentric, shut-in genius (Isaac) who has secretly built the world’s first Artificial Intelligence. Like many films about robots, the narrative is more interested in the emotion of its characters than their intelligence. With the brains of Tarkovsky and the sly humor and atmospherics of Kubrick, the science-based melodrama plays out with classic precision. Gleeson is fantastically wide-eyed, while Isaac is wonderfully sinister, conveying so much darkness under his lying eyes and words. The star, however, is Ava, the beautifully created android at the center, who makes this year’s Chappie look like a coffee-shop doodle. Surreally portrayed with heartbreaking honesty by Vikander, she represents a warmly naïve sweetness underpinned by an ominous intelligence.
Technically, the movie is immaculate: engaging dialogue, perfect sets, striking and horrifying imagery. However, to over-intellectualize the critical merits of the film would be to treat it dishonestly. It’s a movie about reconciling intellect with impulse. So while it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, its piercing humanity and tonal brilliance remind me of why I’ve always loved film.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
By Cole Schneider
If Ingmar Bergman (“The Seventh Seal”) directed a modern sci-fi thriller it might have looked like “Ex Machina”. The film is a chamber piece with only three characters. The obscenely talented Oscar Isaac (“Drive”, “Inside Llewyn Davis”, “A Most Violent Year”) plays Nathan, a man who has created artificial intelligence. Swedish actress Alicia Vikander (“A Royal Affair”) plays Ava, the created A.I. Our protagonist is Caleb, a man selected by Nathan to evaluate Ava, played by Domhnall Gleeson (“Frank”).
The tension throughout the film is masterfully held together through cinematography, score, and editing by first time director Alex Garland (known mostly for his writing collaborations with Danny Boyle) and the atmosphere always perfectly balances dread with intrigue. It is not a manic film like Boyle (“28 Days Later”) might have made, but a quiet, creeping film more reminiscent of David Fincher (“Zodiac”).
Kubrick’s A.I. movie (“2001: A Space Odyssey) struck fear and Spielberg’s (“A.I. Artificial Intelligence”) manufactured empathy. Films about Artificial Intelligence have generally followed one of those two models. If “Ex Machina” sets itself apart it does so by doing both. Still, does it really set itself apart, especially as it is so similar in its primary thematic ambitions to last year’s masterpiece “Under the Skin”?
If a short, 250 word review references five other films as comparisons it probably does not, but don’t underestimate its effectiveness in bringing small, functional existential cinema in wide-audience packaging. “Ex Machina” is certainly in the discussion for best film of the short year-to-date.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars