Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander
Directed by: Alex Garland (debut)
Written by: Alex Garland (“28 Days Later”)
After the SXSW premiere of “Ex Machina,” director Alex Garland was asked a directorial question, with this film being his debut after years of solely screenwriting. In a fantastically articulated answer, Garland explained that people tend to deify directors; a sentiment that he called “bullshit.” He contended that he is a writer first, and that every part of the crew from the director down was a “filmmaker.” Writer, director, filmmaker; the semantics, job titles and roles don’t matter. As long as Garland is putting his ideas to screen, like the fascinating ones he has with “Ex Machina,” the film industry is a better place.
After winning a company-wide contest, programmer Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) is invited to spend a week with his reclusive boss and tech CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Previously unsure of what the week would entail, Caleb soon finds out that Nathan has built artificial intelligence, and that he is there to perform a test on its intelligent human behavior. However, as Caleb gets to know the A.I., Ava (Alicia Vikander), he sees that things may not be what they seem.
Another word about “Ex Machina” cannot be written without first acknowledging the staggeringly great performance from Isaac. Equal parts charismatic, humorous, dark and enigmatic, Isaac shows expert level character building and chops. It’s a down-to-earth performance that gives what could easily be an off-putting, egotistical, super-genius character into an affable, fun-loving guy. He’s also responsible for a completely unexpected and equally hilarious dance sequence that will easily go down as one of the best moments in any film this year.
Garland’s smart and ambitious screenplay keeps an air of mystery that allows every moment to unfold without knowing is what to come. After a great set up to pique interest, Garland throws a wrinkle into the film that keeps audiences on their toes. Without getting into too many plot details, motives begin to come into question and the complexity of the story and relationships kick into high gear, allowing audiences to flex their mental muscles to stay engaged.
As “Ex Machina” comes to its dramatic conclusion, there are moments where the storytelling becomes a little too dense and thematically crowded. As a result, the different themes at play get a little muddy and it takes a little unpacking to find the prevailing ones. Even with an overstuffed ending, “Ex Machina” is jam packed with moments of brilliance and bursting with originality. It’s atmospheric, intimate and joins Mike Cahill’s “Another Earth” and Duncan Jones’ “Moon” as one of the best original sci-fi films of the past several years. Also, that Oscar Isaac dance scene.