Sometimes it’s the simple things that resonate best. A science fiction film doesn’t always need dozens of action sequences, wall to wall CGI, and a long list of eclectic characters. Sometimes it just needs one immensely stimulating idea, a simple illusion to give authenticity, a director with keen vision, and a few splendid actors to make it all come together beautifully.
Best described as a sci-fi, romance/thriller with a dash of horror, Ex Machina begins with New York computer programmer Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) working for “Bluebook” (a search engine company equivalent to Google). After winning a seemingly random contest, Caleb gains an exclusive internship with the company’s creator, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), requiring him to be whisked away to an isolated research facility to help with Bateman’s top secret project. Bateman is secretly perfecting artificial intelligence, in the form of a feminine android named Ava (Alicia Vikander) and he wants Caleb to administer the final test of interviews to authenticate his creation. The question is; can Caleb trust the narcissistic, alcoholic Bateman?
The film is the directorial debut of Alex Garland, who previously honed his filmmaking chops working on the screenplays for films such as 28 Days Later, and Dredd. From the moment the film begins, you can feel his dedication to it. Crafted almost like a series of psychiatric evaluation tapes, the movie is without a doubt, the most mentally stimulating movie of 2015. But it also manages to be visually captivating, thanks to gorgeous imagery and a subtle dose of special effects: nearly Ava’s entire body is transparent. A soundtrack reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey also manages to do a masterful job of setting the tense tone.
But most of the tension is provided by a stellar cast. After seeing him in Inside Llewyn Davis and A Most Violent Year, I can now 100% confirm that I am a fan of Oscar Isaac. He portrays Norman Bateman with the charisma and creepiness reserved for most James Bond villains. From the moment the character appears, it is recognizable that he has a dangerous intelligent and manipulative quality about him. Domhnall Gleeson (perhaps most recognizable as one of the Weasley brothers in the Harry Potter franchise) is also brilliant in his humble portrayal of Caleb Smith. And even though both men give spectacular performances, it is Alicia Vikander’s portrayal of Ava that is arguably the film’s best. She brings a raw hopefulness and wit to the character that easily gives her the crown for best portrayal of a robot in a movie. The chemistry shared between her and Gleeson, makes the Caleb and Ava romance that drives the film, feel incredibly tangible.
Ex Machina is proof that, even in today’s day and age where seemingly every film must fill an explosion quota, the most thought provoking can prove to be the most entertaining. I can’t find anything negative to say about this film. It isn’t too long, it offers up more than a few surprises, and seemingly every scene is absolutely pertinent. It all feels so carefully fine-tuned, and by its end you could very well find yourself in awe of just how intriguing it felt from start to finish.
FINAL GRADE: A+