A movie review of “Ex Machina”: An artificial-intelligence robot poses challenging questions about what constitutes the nature of humanity. The terrific cast includes Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander. Rating: 4 stars out of 4.
“Ex Machina” is an exquisite puzzle box of a picture. It baffles. It unsettles. It intrigues.
At its center — baffling, unsettling and infinitely intriguing — is a robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander), the creation of a wealthy genius scientist/entrepreneur named Nathan (Oscar Isaac).
Ava is literally transparent, her mechanical innards visible through clear plastic skin. Writer-director Alex Garland and the picture’s production team have, through the use of CGI, conceived and constructed an amazing-looking entity in Ava.
Movie Review ★★★★
‘Ex Machina,’ with Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno. Written and directed by Alex Garland. 108 minutes. Rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence. Several theaters.
Yet there is much of Ava that is hidden. She is a walking, talking enigma. Behind the lovely, expressive human mask grafted onto her mechanical head lies a hyperadvanced man-made brain.
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She’s an artificial-intelligence entity, close to human. But how close? Nathan recruits one of his top programmers, a geeky young fellow named Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), to administer the so-called Turing test to find out whether her intelligence matches, or perhaps exceeds, that of human beings.
The setting of this experiment is a remote forest fortress bought and built by Nathan’s megamillions, a place of opulence and austerity, of featureless gray concrete walls and pricey furnishings. It’s a perfect hideout for reclusive eccentric Nathan.
The performances are extraordinary, with Vikander’s being the most remarkable. She plays Ava with a Mona Lisa smile — inscrutable yet mesmerizing — and a voice that is preternaturally calm yet oddly seductive.
Gleeson’s Caleb is a loner, and lonely. He’s attracted to Ava’s intelligence and bewitched by her undeniable allure. As he falls under her spell, he comes to question the nature of humanity — not only of Ava’s (possible) humanity, but of his own.
Isaac, coming off his highly praised performance in “A Most Violent Year,” once again does terrific work. His Nathan, creator of a search engine that’s made him enormously wealthy, has the kind of intimidating arrogance of a Steve Jobs. He clearly believes he’s the smartest guy on the planet and is comfortable playing God both with his creation Ava and with his employee Caleb.
Garland’s conception and handling of this material is close to flawless. It’s hard to believe this is his first directorial effort. A novelist (“The Beach”) turned screenwriter (“28 Days Later,” “Sunshine,” both directed by Danny Boyle), and clearly a man of great intelligence, he’s made one of the most memorable science-fiction movies in recent memory.