“Ex Machina” movie review

By Jeff Boudreaux

ExMachina_Poster art

From the mind behind “Sunshine” and “28 Days Later” comes a sci-fi thriller that presents an extremely intelligent view on the interactions between man and A.I. With 2015 shaping up to be a major year for robots in film, Alex Garland’s terrific “Ex Machina” firmly takes its place at the front of the pack.

Domnhall Gleason (About Time) stars as Caleb, a computer programmer for “Blue Book,” the largest search engine in the world. (Don’t believe me? Just Google it!) He appears to win a company lottery of sorts, and is invited for a week’s stay at the Founder/CEO’s estate, secluded in the mountains. After he arrives by helicopter, he meets the man responsible for all of this, Nathan (the dynamic Oscar Isaac), who welcomes him into his beautiful home by showing him to a subterranean guest room with automatic locks. Caleb is also given a key card to access certain doors in the facility, but not others. In case you’re wondering why all of this protocol is necessary, obviously so is Caleb. Nathan informs him (after a non-disclosure agreement) that he was selected to conduct a “Turing” test on a beautiful android named Ava (Alicia Vikander), who is Nathan’s creation – a being that will eventually change the world.

The tests begin innocently enough, with a flirtatious Ava and an ever-watching Nathan, documenting every interaction on one of the many cameras installed. After all, this is a state of the art research facility where artificial intelligence was created and it is here where it must be finalized. After a series of tests, Caleb begins to actually develop feelings for the robot who implores him not to trust Nathan. This is actually funny, since Nathan warns Caleb the same thing about Ava, at least in terms of him not believing everything that she might say! The closer that Caleb becomes to Ava, the harder it is for him to be truly judicious in his observations. In turn, he becomes more restrictive in his reports to his employer. This creates a subtle tension and distrust between the two men.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop the two men from developing a superficial bond through the seemingly endless consumption of alcohol and non-stop partying by Nathan, as they are pampered by Nathan’s personal assistant Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), who neither speaks nor appears to understand English. That, however, does not mean that she can’t dance. This brings me to a hilarious scene, which should give you some indication about Nathan’s character. Sometime after Ava presents Caleb with a beautiful drawing of himself, Caleb catches Nathan ripping the picture up, while viewing one of the monitors. After confronting his host and inquiring as to why he would “tear up” Ava’s drawing, Nathan’s only response is that he is about to “tear up the dance floor” and invites Caleb to partake in an impromptu dance party with Kyoko!

Yet, there is something significantly darker at work here; there is a sense of voyeurism throughout this film, especially in scenes where Caleb is viewing Ava on the monitor in his guest room. The stark feelings turn to claustrophobia when Caleb steals a drunken Nathan’s key card and views parts of the facility that he was never meant to. The ultimate culmination of Caleb and his role in Nathan’s plans come upon the realization that Ava was actually tailored to his interests through his searches on “Blue Book” while at corporate headquarters. It is then that Caleb begins to question his own humanity and existence.ex_machina_movie_poster-t3

This is a dynamic film and an excellent character study between the three leads. We feel for Ava, who lest we forget isn’t a real person, when she implores Caleb to take her away from Nathan. Yet, we can’t come to hate Nathan, due to Oscar Isaac’s portrayal of a rich genius who can’t get any closer to Earth. We can relate to him, because he likes to have fun. He’s just an average Joe who develops androids. The real interesting thing about the character of Nathan is that we get to watch a man who has everything actually go on thinking that he’s in control of his surroundings. As we all know, everything is not always what it seems. And certainly not to be outdone, the meek Caleb is a lot stronger than he looks. (He survived a car accident that claimed the life of both his parents.) Gleason’s characterization proves to be an excellent foil for Nathan, the genius who is supposed to be on a completely different level.

First-time director Alex Garland makes an auspicious debut with his own clever script. There are a few surprises that he unleashes upon his audience, sometimes even with a well-intentioned wink. With absolutely gorgeous cinematography, and one of the best science fiction tales to come upon the silver screen in quite some time, it’s obvious that Garland, who has found so much success in screenwriting, will be given a lot more opportunities in this field in the very near future.

***1/2 (three and a half out of four stars)


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