Ex Machina (2015)

Ex Machina (2015)

Director: Alex Garland
Starring: Domnhall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac

A programmer is chosen to participate in a Turing test for the AI his company's reclusive founder has been developing.

This film caught my eye when I heard about it making a splash at SXSW and once it gained wider release, I had the opportunity to check it out. It's somewhat fitting that I'd see it as a double feature with Avengers 2 as both films are about an emergent AI and have a strong character-centric focus. However, while Avengers 2 is a big-budget summer blockbuster, Ex Machina is more of a small indie flick and this works well to its advantage. You only have four characters for most of the film and one of those three doesn't have any dialog, so where Avengers 2's character focus was somewhat hobbled by the overlarge cast, this movie could spend its runtime going very deep into the few players on the stage. Now, when you've got such a small cast, you really need strong actors to pull it off and you get that with the main trio. Domnhall Gleeson is interesting as Caleb, being part everyman while still operating at a sufficiently high enough level for the subject matter. Oscar Isaac does a great job as the eccentric Nathan, who makes efforts to be affable but is incredibly off-putting (entirely deliberate and does wonders for the atmosphere), and then there Alicia Vikander as Ava, who really dances around the uncanny valley, being just a half-step away from humanity, deftly playing on the audience's sympathies as she does on Caleb's.

This film delves deeply into the technical, psychological and philosophical issues of AI with more intelligence than you'll typically find on the silver screen. It's a smart, well-written movie that has a suspenseful vibe and a few good twists waiting for you. Also, there's this great juxtaposition of the gorgeous natural vistas of Norway with Nathan's sterile, high-tech mansion/research facility. It's all very good stuff.

I highly recommend this one. If the Academy has any sense, we'll be seeing this one again come Oscar season. In the meantime, take advantage of the wider release and go see it.

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