By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Written and directed by Alex Garland, the screenwriter of 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, and Dredd, Ex Machina serves as Garland’s directorial debut and evidence of talents behind the camera in addition to his writing. Machina may not tell an original science fiction tale, but Garland certainly makes an impact in the genre with a movie that looks gorgeous, has captivating characters and will leave audiences awestruck. Garland has already proven himself a gifted and capable writer. This movie shows that he has the talent as a full-fledged, double-threat filmmaker.
Domhnall Gleeson stars as Caleb, an intelligent computer programmer who wins the opportunity to meet and work with the famous and enigmatic tech CEO named Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Nathan sends a helicopter for Caleb, who is whisked to the CEO’s secluded home. Nathan wants to work with Caleb in testing his groundbreaking work in artificial intelligence. He has developed and created an amazingly life-like android named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Through a series of testing sessions, Caleb must determine how human-like her thinking functions. As he spends more time with Ava, he develops an attachment with her and a distrust of Nathan, about whom Ava has warned that his intentions are not all that honorable.
Garland has made a truly remarkable and exceptional film with Ex Machina. In this film, he does amazing work taking a simple premise and using it to create a highly contemplative and fascinating piece. His ability to do this lies in the extraordinary character development. The movie has little action and consists of mostly dialogue and other kinds of communication, but it is so well done that the entire work is utterly engrossing. As Ava has an incredible way of reading people’s expressions, reactions and body language. Garland and his cast have an impressive way of conveying these nuiances through the direction and performance.
The leading cast only consists of three people with one key supporting member, but these actors deliver such phenomenal performances that I could have continued watching these talents for an even longer run. Domnhall Gleeson offers a highly amiable turn as Caleb, an intelligent and kind-hearted soul who might be in over-his-head working with the brilliant, but possibly unscrupulous Caleb. The beautiful and spellbinding Alicia Vikander proves that she is more than just a pretty face with a performance that could melt anyone’s heart. The always impressive Oscar Isaac does it again as a genius scientist who is capable of amazing work and is accomplishing it, but has some serious inner demons to battle.
In addition to the writing, direction and acting, I must highly praise the gorgeous cinematography by Rob Hardy, the dazzling work by the art directors (Katrina Mackay, Denis Schnegg), production designer (Mark Digby), and set decoration (Michelle Day). I hope to see these names receive Oscar nominations, as well as the names of those who worked in the makeup department, visual, and special effects. Their hard work really is uncanny. I also applaud the haunting score by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury. Their compositions definitely add to the creepy futuristic feel of the film.
The movie is R-rated for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence, so this sci fi entry is not intended for younger audiences. Fans of science fiction movies about the development of artificial intelligence should absolutely see this movie. Alex Garland has created a feast not only for the eyes, but also the brain. Even though, the story and action doesn’t beg to be viewed on the big screen, I feel that the talented filmmakers and actors deserve to see some serious box office returns so that audiences can be treated to more of their excellent work. I most definitely hope to see Alex Garland’s name in the director’s credits for more major movies.