Monday, May 30, 2016

Short Take: Ex Machina

Ex Machina, Alex Garland’s directorial debut, is an absorbing, intelligent effort--part psychological thriller, part meditation on technology. Domhnall Gleeson stars as a young computer programmer who wins a contest to spend a week at the remote estate of his company’s CEO (Oscar Isaac). Once there, he finds he has been chosen to help evaluate a breakthrough artificial-intelligence project. The CEO has developed an android with a feminine personality (Alicia Vikander), and he needs the programmer to help assess the extent the android can relate to people. Until its climactic section, the film is mainly a series of dialogues between the programmer and the CEO, and the programmer and the android. The conversations between the two men relate to psychology, morality, and other implications of the CEO’s invention. The drama comes from the contrast in their personalities. The CEO is a brash, uncouth epicurean, while the programmer is introverted, intellectual, and more than a little taken aback by his host’s manner. The film’s suspense is in the scenes with the programmer and the android. Alicia Vikander’s specialty is projecting guilelessness, and she and Garland keep the viewer guessing about the android’s motives. Is she as sympathetic as she seems, or is she manipulating the young programmer for her own ends? Or is the CEO using her to determine the malleability of others? Garland adopts a deliberate, clinical tone, and as engaging as the film is, he may have overdone it. There are two gruesomely violent scenes near the end, but the bloodletting carries no shock. And the whole movie is upstaged by a moment of impromptu dancing by Oscar Isaac and Sonoya Mizuno, who plays the CEO’s housemaid. It’s the only scene with the juice--and fun--of life’s pleasures. The film is a superior piece of science fiction, but it may be a little too cerebral for its own good. The finely crafted screenplay is credited to Garland. Rob Hardy was the cinematographer. The Oscar-winning special effects are by Andrew Whitehurst.

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