Saturday, July 23, 2016

Amazon Prime Movie Review: Ex Machina (2015)

Ex Machina (2015) - Written and Directed by Alex Garland; Starring Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Issac.

By Kenny Howell

When will computers with artificial intelligence turn out to be a good thing?

Whether its HAL trying to kill astronauts  who want to shut him off in 2001: A Space Odyssey or Samantha from Her breaking hearts and exploring what the nature of love really is, artificial intelligence never has a good effect on humans.

Alex Garland (Dredd) has entered another one into the genre with Ex Machina. It is about a reclusive billionaire programmer named Nathan (Oscar Issac) who invites a young programmer at his company to his compound for a week. Nathan wrote a code for what is essentially Google, though it is called Bluebook in the film, when he was just 13 and runs the company from deep in the wilderness. The young programmer, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), wins a contest set up by Nathan to go see some things that he is working on at the time.

After a long helicopter trip and walk into the forest, Caleb arrives at the exquisite compound and meets the eccentric Nathan. Nathan tells him that he is there to administer the Turing Test, the test which determines if you have achieved true artificial intelligence, one in which the human does not know he is talking to a computer. Nathan introduces Caleb to Ava (Alicia Vikander), a robot Caleb has created complete with a human face and emotions. Over the days, Caleb interacts with Ava, and it becomes more and more certain that Nathan might not totally be on the up and up and Ava has learned that he possibly can't be trusted. She yearns to break free, but Nathan will not let her out of a sealed room, further pushing not only Ava over the edge, but also Caleb.

The idea of artificial intelligence has been tackled many many times, sometimes with fantastic results like the two films I mentioned in the first paragraph. Ex Machina is not quite there. Even though it touches on those deep ideas of what bringing true artificial intelligence into the rule world means, it doesn't dig as deeply as something like Her did just two years ago. It does at times, but then pulls back it seems. However, there is a sense of wonder about it, and it plays extremely well as a psychological thriller when it goes down that path. Add to that the extremely good performances by the trio of actors, especially Issac and Vikander. Issac continues to astound, this time playing a ruthless egomaniac genius who may be letting the whole God thing go to his head. Vikander is perfect at catching that child like wonder that Ava has, everything being new to her, not only love and friendship, but also survival. You kind of want to give her a hug in some moments, and others you want to get away from her as quickly as possible.

All those elements come together to make a pretty good entry into the artificial intelligence genre, just not maybe one we will talk about 20 years from now. However, there's nothing wrong with that because, as this is, it's a slick little film.

Ex Machina is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Rating: ***1/2

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