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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Friday, October 09, 2015

Movie Review - Ex Machina

Ex Machina (2015)
Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, and Oscar Isaac
Directed by Alex Garland

It's always special when a movie really makes you ponder things while watching and Ex Machina does just that as I found myself questioning whether technology is advancing too rapidly for humans to really comprehend its effects on our culture.  Here, young computer whiz Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is chosen by his reclusive boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac) to come to his remote home to meet with him.  Unsure of the reason for the visit, Caleb soon discovers that Nathan would like him to test the effectiveness of a female A.I. he has created to see if it would be possible for her to pass as a human.  Through a series of tests over the course of a week, Caleb gets to know Ava (Alicia Vikander) who, despite a lack of skin over most of her body, seems to be reacting to his questions in incredibly humanistic ways.

The issue then raised -- and which is certainly the basis for much conflict within the film -- is whether or not Ava is too human in that she has the ability to manipulate real humans into believing everything she says.  Caleb finds himself confused by Ava's responses at times, and although Nathan feels fairly confident that he knows Ava's true being since he programmed her, Caleb begins to question his boss's motives and sanity as the days progress.

There's an overarching sense of uncomfortableness that pervades the atmosphere of Ex Machina, a film that isn't so much a thriller as it is a thinking man's horror film.  As I write this review right now, there is a legitimate news item circulating the web about the fear of man-created robots utilizing their artificial intelligence to wreak havoc on their creators.  Of course, the Terminator franchise treaded this water long ago, but Ex Machina ponders these same questions with a more science-minded thought process that I found absolutely intriguing.

The film is anchored by three fantastic performances by Gleeson, Isaac, and Vikander who essentially have the only three speaking roles in the piece.  Each character has its own distinct personality that the actors vividly capture with all three really grabbing hold of the hefty parts they've been written.  I found each member of the trio compelling in their own ways and as the film progresses I found their character arcs and changing mindsets to be believably portrayed.

In his debut film as a director, Alex Garland is exceedingly successful, crafting a film that while slow paced never feels plodding or as if it's overstaying its welcome.  Having also scripted the film, Garland doesn't shy away from the "talky" moments of exposition which admittedly on first glance seem a tiny bit tedious as the story unfolds.  However, I imagine on a repeat viewing (which I will likely give before next year's RyMickey Awards), the detailed dialog will come together with a little more purpose.  Garland also excels at making the film feels expensive despite a relatively low budget in its luxurious production design and nice special effects.

Overall, Ex Machina is a winner - a science fiction film that makes us question the lengths to which machine is helping man.  Are we overstepping our bounds and will technology do us more harm than good?

The RyMickey Rating:  B+
(Although I must admit that I'm awfully close to an A- on this one...it just felt a little too "talky" on the first watch.  I'm sure on repeat viewings this feeling dissipates, but I will have to wait until then to up the grade.)

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