This movie has been on a lot of folks’ “best of” lists this year and I somehow missed it, so I just recently caught it on bluray and thought I’d pass on my thoughts.
Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) works for a giant tech company who created the largest search engine on the planet (a futuristic version of Google). He wins a lottery to spend a week at the private home of its creator, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). This location also serves as a research base, so Caleb gets to see behind the curtain of what this tech mogul is working on next. It turns out that Nathan has created an artificial intelligence named Ava (Alicia Vikander) and wants Caleb to help test if she’s distinguishable from a human being.
This film is the directorial debut of Alex Garland, who wrote films like Dredd, 28 Days Later, and Sunshine.
This movie works in a lot of ways but mostly succeeds because of its leads. There are really only three speaking parts in the film (aside from a helicopter pilot and a mysterious silent assistant) but they all deliver incredible performances.
Domhnall Gleeson has had an incredible year, as he was in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Brooklyn, and The Revenant. Here, he plays just a normal guy, though a bit on the smarter side. As things become more complicated, he delivers an incredibly nuanced performance that really impresses. Opposite him, we have Oscar Isaac (who also starred in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and will soon be appearing as the title character in X-Men: Apocalypse). Isaac plays the genius creator of this search engine and now creator of Ava. Like Gleeson, his character becomes more and more complicated as the story progresses. At the beginning, he’s all about having beers and having fun, but things take a dark turn and his true motives are slowly uncovered. Isaac does a great job of playing a man trying to hide his true intentions.
And then we have Alicia Vikander, as the artificial intelligence Ava. The special effects are pretty incredible, which make her look like a skeletal robot, but it’s really her performance that sells this whole movie. She is naive and innocent and yet she’s learning more and more everyday. The character is fascinating, able to see the world through search results but never stepping foot outside her
What doesn’t work?
This movie gets a little dark towards the end. I’m a fan of that, if it makes for good storytelling, but this isn’t a movie where you sit down and expect escapism. This has a compelling tale to tell but it’s not always easy to watch.
Also, I did have some qualms with the soundtrack/effects. There were just a few moments when the music swelled or a big crescendo happened but it didn’t really line up with what was happening in the movie. I expected some big moment but the two things didn’t mesh.
Ex Machina is like a two-hour version of Black Mirror, if you’ve ever seen that. It’s a look into what our first foray into true artificial intelligence might be like. It’s dark and sometimes hard to watch, but the outstanding performances by our three leads create an extremely compelling and well-crafted story.