Thursday, September 10, 2015


Ex Machina is a film that could get a lot of attention in the future, as two of its stars (Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac) are really starting to take off -- and in particular, both will be in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But Ex Machina is also a film that should be getting a lot of attention right now, because it's quite simply excellent.

Eccentric inventor Nathan Bateman claims to have created an android with true artificial intelligence. He invites Caleb, a low level programmer in his company, to come to his remote lab/hideaway to perform a "Turing test" on the creation, named Ava. It quickly becomes apparent that Nathan is a devious and deceptive man... and that the question of Ava's intelligence may be the least of Caleb's concerns.

Ex Machina is an effective blend of a lot of genres. Of course, it's a science fiction movie -- though its current, real-world setting leaves very little disbelief to be suspended. The heavy focus on three major characters (there are few others even in the film) often makes it feel like a piece of intimate live theater. And permeating everything is the claustrophobic environment and persistently creepy tone -- making the movie feel like a suspenseful thriller more than anything. Its a battle of wills, where you're never completely sure who has the upper hand, and you're always questioning who knows more than they're letting on. And the story doesn't balk at venturing into some truly dark areas.

The acting in the film pulls you completely into the story. Domhnall Gleeson brilliantly walks the line of a smart but not-quite-savvy protagonist; you believe in all the decisions he makes, even though you sometimes want to scream at him not to. Oscar Isaac is a perfect foil, oily and dangerous without being overtly villainous. And as Ava, Alicia Vikander is exactly what the movie requires to work correctly -- you are no more sure than the main character of what might be really going on in her head.

The movie is also a visual effects triumph. Though the movie is loaded with FX shots, you're rarely conscious of them. Writer/Director Alex Garland never makes them the focus, never allows them to get in the way of the story he's telling. There's never a moment where the staging or camera movements of a scene feel like they were dictated by the demands of anything other than effective storytelling.

In short, there's no way this movie won't end up on my top 10 list for 2015. I give it an A-.

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