Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno
Alex Garland’s exploration of artificial intelligence is a fascinating film that recalls Duncan Jones’ sci-fi debut Moon. Both films delve into the genre with creativity and flare and both feature terrific performances at their core.
When a young programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a contest to visit the company CEO’s (Oscar Isaac) isolated compound, he finds himself a chess piece in a game to determine whether A.I. Ava (Alicia Vikander) would pass the Turing test, the gold standard by which all artificial intelligence programs must adhere in order to be declared truly intelligent. As he begins to suspect it might actually be he who is being tested and not the A.I., the film’s complex plot begins to rev up. Neither side, audience or protagonist, can be entirely sure what to think or what to expect from the film’s slow-build narrative as expectations are twisted and subverted in only the most fascinating ways.
Gleeson is his dependable self as the slightly befuddled, but ultimately conscientious lead. He’s playing opposite the manic Isaac who plays his isolationist megalomaniac with crazed excess and cunning awfulness, which requires a bit of external fortitude. They are balanced by Vikander as the seemingly selfless A.I. who seems to have her own complex machinations in play, but keeps those notions hidden from the audience and her co-habitants in the futuristic house in which the film is set.
The first film Garland worked on was as writer for Danny Boyle’s seminal zombie flick 28 Days Later. He also wrote two other sci-fi films in advance of his work on Ex Machina, his directorial debut. Boyle’s Sunshine wasn’t quite the success of their previous collaboration, but Garland’s adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s celebrated dystopian novel Never Let Me Go gave director Mark Romanek and stars Andrew Garfield, Carey Mulligan, and Keira Knightly an amazing screenplay to work with. That said, Ex Machina‘s cerebral style is muted by its realistic foundation, giving the audience a thought-provoking, if unusual feature.
Ex Machina might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It takes its time getting anywhere, but slowly ramps up the tension until we’re uncertain where the film is headed, but we’re inextricably pulled along. It’s a movie that requires some measured attention and doesn’t let the audience believe for one moment it will be as bombastic or action-oriented as most films in this genre typically are.
In the end, Garland has managed to take Ex Machina‘s twists and turns and give them the slow boil strangeness of a Stanley Kubrick film mixed with the humanistic thriller elements of an Alfred Hitchcock picture. Although this leads to the believe that Garland hasn’t been able to cobble together a style of his own, it definitely suggests that unlike his filmmaking contemporary J.J. Abrams, he knows how to pull inspiration and cinematic semantics from other great directors and make them fit perfectly into whatever style he does have.
November 23, 2020