dir. Alex Garland
written by: Alex Garland
starring: Domnhall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac
3.25 out of 4 stars
Genre fiction again fills my cinematic outting. Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, his directorial debut, introduces Caleb, a developer with an unnamed search engine company, as he wins a trip to meet the elusive CEO. After arriving and meeting Nathan, the surprisingly bro-ish boss, at his Alaska estate (which involved a 2 hour unacknowledged flight through the property via helicopter. How many miles would that get you in an average helicopter? Seems absurdly large, but it is Alaska), Caleb signs a non-disclosure agreement in order to discover Nathan’s newest pet project. Ava, an artificially intelligent android with the face of an angel, will be tested by Caleb to discern if the robot can appear human. The situation is complicated when Ava displays attraction to her human and vitriol for her creator.
Domnhall Gleeson plays Caleb with subtle geekery in a role not given much challenge, but where the role reaches darker realms, the effect falls somewhat flat. His chemistry with Oscar Isaac as Nathan plays well. Oscar Isaac has a lot more to play with in the enigmatic, troubled Nathan. This character is a loud, overly confident, alcoholic, and Isaac plays the jackass to great effect. The standout in this trio though is Ava, as played by the gorgeous, nuanced Alicia Vikander. Ava moves with the mechanically accuracy of an android, but she speaks with grace and humor. Her tonal shifts never swing wide, keeping the subservient role over her distrust.
The script felt uneven at times, and a tonal shift toward to end veered more abruptly than I would have expected. That being said, the content, particularly relating to the true ability for an robot to acknowledge its consciousness. The trio is deceptive in their own ways, and it’s hard to tell who can be trusted. Caleb’s scenes with Ava are the standout for the movie. The tests are well constructed, and as Caleb interacts with Ava more, her personality flourishes. However, I did not enjoy Nathan as a character. He was over-the-top, and even as a meaningful persona as some have speculated, it did not sell a transition
The quality of the story telling did not immediately become evident. It took days to let the film sink in. The most notable strength the movie possessed were the sound and cinematography. Ava’s every movement whirs with electric activity, and the score echoes with an eerie symphony. The light and color, with drastic changes and well placed reflections, aids to the split world between AI and human.
This sci-fi concept has been breached from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Robot & Frank, varying in quality along the way. Alex Garland proves capable beyond his screenwriting ability in the director chair. Despite some characterizations I wish were different and some uneven pacing, Ex Machina provided thought provoking narrative