Ex Machina online movie review - Amazing Performances from Oscar Isaac and Alica Vikander
There's been a lot of chatter about artificial intelligence over the past year, with public scientific figures coming forward to warn of us its dangers or praise its eventuality.
Perfect timing for writer/director Alex Garland's EX MACHINA to come along with its questions on what constitutes sentience and what rights, if any, machines should be afforded should they ever develop it. EX MACHINA is a gripping science fiction drama featuring a pitch perfect cast and an intriguing premise. It stars Domhnall Gleeson as Caleb, a talented computer programmer working for the world's most prominent search engine company who wins a lottery with the grand prize being a week with the company's reclusive CEO at his estate. Expecting a week of relaxation and fun with the wealthiest man on the planet, Caleb is surprised when he meets Nathan (Oscar Isaac) and learns there is more to the prize than he thought. Nathan has developed a form of artificial intelligence and he wants Caleb to be the human element in a Turing test. He's introduced to Ava (Alicia Vikander) and he's nothing short of amazed at what Nathan has accomplished. Over the course of the next week, Caleb will have a series of sessions with Ava intending to determine whether she has reached the level of true sentience. But it's not so simple. Ava warns Caleb that Nathan isn't the friend he appears to be, leaving Caleb to wonder if something more sinister is occurring behind the scenes and who can be trusted.
It's always hard for me to explain what I love so much about movies as fantastic as EX MACHINA because I get so caught up in the film that it's hard for me to break down what elements were so affective. I can't watch EX MACHINA without being sucked in; all of the little details escape me because I'm so engaged in the overall experience. I can say with certainty that the cast is top notch. With all respect to Gleeson, he does a great job as the audience surrogate, bringing us along with him into this bizarre scenario and reacting with perfection, but the real accolades belong to Isaac and Vikander. We'll start with Oscar Isaac as Nathan. His performance and this character are probably the most complex component of an already complex film. Nathan is probably the main reason EX MACHINA deserves at least a second viewing because you watch the film the first time and get a very definite vibe off the man. Then you see the ending, motives are revealed and everything is made clear, and the second viewing gives you the chance to re-examine his behavior. Nathan is made out to be somewhat unnerving from the moment we meet him. He lives alone in large subterranean estate on a massive plot of land and, while he comes across as friendly, there seems to be something going on underneath. Could be a more malevolent side we aren't seeing, or it could just be the secretive nature of his work causing him to play his hand close to his chest. Isaac plays it in the best way possible, leaving it ambiguous throughout. Alicia Vikander as Ava is equally notable. Ava has a beautiful purity to her. She hasn't been around long and what time she's been "alive" has been spent trapped in the same room with only Nathan for social interaction. She's intelligent, observant, shy, and strangely beautiful for a being comprised of metal and plastic (though her face is the most human element and the only portion utilizing a faux skin). She is one of the most sympathetic characters I've seen in film and it's no surprise Caleb begins seeing her as more than a test subject.
Isaac and Vikander are great enough on their own to warrant a recommendation for this film but praise needs to be shared with the rest of the cast and crew on this film. Garland's writing is tense and the beats are perfectly laid out, giving the film a mounting sense of dread leading to what you're sure will be a rocky conclusion. The production design is both simple and effective. Information from behind the scenes explains that Nathan's estate is done in minimalistic fashion because of budget constraints but it suits the character and the film. Nathan lives here but it's hardly a home; it's a workshop. And every so often, the characters will wander out of the constrictive house environment into the gorgeous Norwegian landscapes where the film was shot. And finally, the visual effects are sensational. Ava's design and execution is seamless; you never question what you're seeing. It's incredible and even stands above some of the bigger budget blockbuster FX- driven films crowding theaters in the summer. I really do love this film and science fiction fans would be doing themselves a disservice by missing out on EX MACHINA. It was one of the best films of 2015 and one of the most entertaining sci-fi films I've seen.