Artificial intelligence, and artificial life, are proving to be huge at the box office this year. “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, “Jurassic World”, “Chappie”, “Terminator: Genisys”–hey, those latter two underperformed domestically, but raked in much more overseas. So, at the very least, there seems to be a 2015 trend in fascination with thinking beasts–and especially thinking machines. And quite possibly the best of the plethora of A.I. focused releases, is Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina”. It’s compulsively watchable, even after it confines most of its run time to a smattering of “underground” set pieces. Oh, and it’s got Oscar Isaac as its star…which lately has been a resounding win/win. It is again.
A computer programmer named Caleb (the eclectic Domhnall Gleeson), wins a contest to visit the vast mountain estate of his company’s genius, but reclusive, CEO. Upon arriving, he’s surprised to find zillionaire Nathan Bateman (the outstanding Mr. Isaac), living a life of almost complete solitude. We eventually meet a lone housemaid named Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), but otherwise Mr. Bateman appears to spend equal alone-time drinking, working out, and slaving over his pet project–an artificial intelligence humanoid robot, named Ava (a quite effective Alicia Vikander). Caleb is entrusted to test “her”, and if you need me to tell you that mishaps occur, and lies are exposed…you really need to watch more films.
Oscar Isaac is rapidly becoming my favorite film actor. His slimy, pat-on-your-back, just-one-of-the-boys, computer guru, is an absolutely fascinating character. Mr. Isaac makes him perfectly believable, menacing–and even sympathetic. What a high wire act. I’ve seen the chameleon-like Mr. Gleeson, many times before (including on stage), and he’s a heck of a character actor–being the son of Brendan proves that the apple doesn’t fall far. Ms. Vikander, reviewed here previously on the blog for the Danish “A Royal Affair”, is perfectly cast as Bateman’s alluring creation. And noted screenwriter and novelist, Alex Garland, provides a sure hand, in this belated directorial debut. It’s 21st century technology meets “Frankenstein”…and you should not miss it.