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Ex Machina (2015)

Josh Reviews Ex Machina

October 26th, 2015

In Alex Garland’s film Ex Machina, Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, a young programmer for Bluebook (a company that, in the world of the film, is the world’s most popular search engine).  Caleb wins a contest to spend a week with the company’s brilliant and reclusive young CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac).  It turns out that Nathan has chosen Caleb to give the Turing test to an artificial intelligence he has created, Ava (Alicia Vikander), to determine if she is truly sentient.

Ex Machina.cropped

Ex Machina is extraordinary, a riveting piece of speculative fiction and an engrossing closed-door character study.  In the best possible way, it feels like a feature-length episode of The Twilight Zone or, to pick a more event example, of the brilliant British TV series Black Mirror.  (Click here for my review of that brilliant and horrifying show that explores ways in which, in the near future, advances in technology might dramatically impact the nature of our lives.)

I just wrote about Oscar Isaac, who was so compelling in Inside Llewyn Davis, in my review of Show Me a Hero.  Here Mr. Davis is again, in an entirely different role from either of those two characters, yet once again absolutely brilliant.  I love the way he has crafted Nathan, someone who looks and feels totally different from the cliche image of a brilliant recluse inventor that one might have expected.  Mr. Isaac plays Nathan as a bulldog, a gruff, blunt man who likes to push and confront.  And yet we also can see his brilliance — this man’s arrogance is not unearned — as well as the insecurity that lies underneath his bluster.  I love every choice that Mr. Isaac and writer/director Alex Garland have made.  I love the look of the character — bald head and scruffy beard — that is so unusual and striking and yet makes perfect sense for a character not used to much human contact.  I love that when we first see him he is working out in sweaty clothes.  Most of all I love the intensity and force of personality that Mr. Isaac brings to the character.  We can understand how this man became as hugely wealthy as he did, and, like Caleb, we are both impressed by and slightly fearful of this unpredictable man.  It’s an incredible performance.

Domhnall Gleeson has been doing great work, these past few years, playing the “everyman” in a variety of science fiction stories, from a terrific episode of the afore-mentioned Black Mirror to the sci-fi romance About Time.  He’s tremendous in this film as the character through whom the audience experiences this story.  This is a far harder role than it might seem … [continued]