Ex Machina (2015)

Drama, Sci-Fi
Domhnall Gleeson, Corey Johnson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander
A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I.
Ex Machina leans heavier on ideas than effects, but it's still a visually polished piece of work -- and an uncommonly engaging sci-fi feature.
  • 10 Apr 2015 Released:
  • N/A DVD Release:
  • $0.2M Box office:

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I think therefore am I?8/10
Ex Machina has a simple story dealing with a deeply complex and philosophical topic: namely what makes humans human.

The increasingly omnipresent Oscar Isaac plays billionaire Nathan Bates, genius creator of 'Google' - my mistake - 'BlueBook', the world's "leading search engine". Bates lives in the middle of the American wilderness (in reality, a very picturesque Norway) and in a property that actually exists (BlueBook the Juvet Hotel). He is leading a one-man research project into the development of an Artificial Intelligence. Leading neatly on from the recent Cumbur-busting "The Imitation Game" the eccentric and erratic Nathan needs to share his work with someone external in order to perform 'The Turing Test' - the test to determine if a machine can genuinely pass itself off as human to another human.

Domhnall Gleeson' character (Caleb) works for BlueBook and wins the Wonka Golden Ticket to spend a week with Nathan, becoming the human side of the test. Ava is the beautiful and seductive android subject and the film clinically walks through the sessions between Caleb and Ava, watched over by Nathan via the villa's comprehensive CCTV system. The only other significant character in the film is Nathan's house maid Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), who neither understands nor speaks English so drifts silently around offering various 'services'.

We have been here before: Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" and Spielberg's "AI" both covered similar ground, but in perhaps a less claustrophobic manner than Ex Machina. This serves the story well, ramping up the tension as an age old Sci-fi plot-point emerges (as covered by the trailer): how will a sentient machine feel about having its plug pulled. (No rain or doves are included in this one).

The acting is all up to snuff, with Isaac - this time hiding behind a Brian Blessed-style bushy beard - looking and acting for all the world like George Clooney. Domhnall Gleeson ("About Time", "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" and getting all the roles that Paul Bettany is now too old for) makes the journey well from nice but naive employee to a much more world-wise freedom-fighter. Swedish-born Alicia Vikander, currently also leading in "Testament of Youth", is deliciously sensual as Ava (albeit - and trust me to notice this - that her significant assets seem to vary in size during the movie). She is also an excellent actress, having to reflect a wide range of emotions through little else than her eyes.

I really enjoyed this film. However, that is on the basis that Science Fiction is one of my favourite genres: I can see some audiences finding the philosophical plotting too slow and wordy to hold their interest. But if you like your films deep and thought-provoking, as well as deliciously tense in places, then this might be for you.

The writer and director is Alex Garland, and this is actually his impressive directorial debut. He is of course best known as a writer, having penned the novel of "The Beach" and the screenplays for films including "28 Days Later", "Sunshine" and "Never Let Me Go". Also hats off to the special effects crew (led by Richard Conway) since Ava is a miracle of visual effects. The effective keyboard score is by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury.

The film pleasingly doesn't outstay its welcome, also leaving some loose ends to ponder on after the lights come on and the screeching credits song (sorry, but it's just AWFUL!) drives you from the auditorium. Also be aware that for those offended by full frontal female nudity, or indeed those that enjoy it, that there is a good deal of it in this film. (Lads, practise the excuse now: "But it's fine dear - - she's not a naked women… she's a robot!").

(If you enjoyed this review, please see the multi-media version at bob-the-movie-man.com and enter your email address to receive future posts. Thanks.)
Highly recommended!5/10
Having wrote the stories to some of his biggest hits, first-time director, Alex Garland, has spent a lot of time with the masterful Danny Boyle: working on such films as The Beach, 28 Days Later and Sunshine. Now, writing and directing his feature debut, Garland proves that he has been paying attention and taking tips as he tackles a complex sci-fi thriller about artificial intelligence.

Featuring Domnhall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac, the stars of the upcoming Star Wars adventure, plus talented newcomer, Alicia Vikander – who stars in three films this month; Ex_Machina is quite well profuse.

Jumping right in, we are introduced to Caleb (Gleeson), a twenty- four year old coder who wins a chance to spend a week at his CEO bosses luxury house. Travelling for many hours over his private estate via helicopter, he arrives at a remote mountain villa. Where he meets Nathan (Isaac) – a prodigy programmer, who at the young age of thirteen created the foundations of Bluebook (our equivalent to Google and Apple combined). Now, middle-aged and extremely wealthy from his companies growing success, he lives a reclusive life at his custom-built smart house, which is insulated by intelligent automated features and billionaire gadgets.

Addressing the concept that life is different at this remote location – which is more of a research facility - Nathan invites Caleb to be part of an experience during his one week stay. An experiment that he classes as the greatest discovering of mankind; to test the world's first artificial intelligence system, which is housed inside the body of a beautiful robot girl (Alicia Vikander).

Of course, the AI' concept has been tackled many of times in contemporary film - most recently in Wally Pfister's directorial- flop, Transcendence. In reality, the closest thing we have to it is Siri. Yet, Garland's vision of AI is extraordinarily superior and physiologically mesmerising to witness.

For Domnhall Gleeson, the premise of his character is similar to that of his characters once played in Frank, or About Time – one that is thrown into a portal of unknown weirdness, and often out of his depth. Over the seven days of testing, Caleb must perform the scientific 'Turing test' on Nathan's AI' system, nicknamed Ava; the idea of which is to deduce God-like theories and philosophical concepts – do robots feel a consciousness? If disguised, would you know it is a robot? Is it ethical?

It's heavy material for Garland, but no stranger to psycho- thrillers, he explores futuristic concepts as if AI's really do exist. Equally, the craft behind Ex_Machina is exceptional. A beautiful piano theme plays methodically, with often mix of silence setting the unique atmosphere. Whilst mainly set inside Nathan's enclosed premise (with no windows), the camera work is mounted aesthetically.

Now, in her third film this month, Alicia Vikander shows that she is able to tackle any form of performance with extreme clause. Whether she is a young-women coming of age during World War One (Testament of Youth), a love-interest of a criminal (Son of A Gun), or now a robot, she is outstanding. Fluxed movements, and facial expressions through seamless CGI, she steals all scenes present.

Compressed into an impressive 1 hour 48 minute running time - considering the ground it has to cover for such a serious sci-fi drama, Ex_Machina, still manages to find time for sublime humour. Taut, fascinating and simply intriguing. Alex Garland's debut film comes highly recommended.
Writer Director Alex Garland is a powerhouse of talent10/10
I rarely do this because there is so much rubbish out there but I'm going to recommend a movie. Writer Director Alex Garland has done an amazing job, it's beautifully shot, fantastically lit, intelligently written, brilliantly cast. the edit is original and brave, as is the direction of the edit, There is nothing superfluous, to the contrary it' has a sharp Zen like quality, clearly the application of a disciplined mind.

The movie is's self is engaging, thoroughly watchable, the characters are simple and yet layered with complexity. The film strikes the perfect balance of not spoon feeding and not dumbing down but not being too arty or intellectual just for the sake of it.

Best seen in a cinema I reckon.
Intriguing, unpredictable and tense8/10
"Ex Machina" deals with a familiar theme in a very unique way. It doesn't bombard you with effects or superficial action (although the robot effects are exceptional). Rather, its focus and beauty lie in the subtle and nuanced performances of its tiny cast as the film explores what it means to be human.

Quiet dialogue scenes between two characters are filmed in such an impactful, making them feel hauntingly austere, sweet and innocent, or terrible and frightening, through meticulous use of composition, light and sound. The film really does run the gamut of emotions, surprisingly funny one minute and gut-wrenchingly tense and weird the next, while the script twists and turns, constantly unsettling your assumptions about what will happen.

The performances are excellent, most notably Alicia Vikander as the beguiling Ava, who absolutely passes for being 'almost human'. Her precise movements -walking, standing or stooping to pull on a pair of stockings- have just that slight tinge of the uncanny about them to suggest a mechanical skeleton, yet she is undeniably seductive. You can really understand Caleb's mental plight as she begins to show signs of a sexual interest in him!

Domhnall Gleeson also delivers a quiet and focused performance as Caleb, which reflects much of the film's over all style. Like Ava, he is relatable, yet has this slight autistic aloofness about him, in complete contrast to the boorish, reckless Nathan (Oscar Isaac).

The dialogue feels real and non-cliche. The pacing for the most part is measured, although one or two scenes might move a little slower than they need to.

The ending probably will not satisfy everyone, and admittedly left me a feeling a bit cold, but it certainly didn't follow the route I was expecting. Overall I found it to be enthralling and disturbing stuff.
Paranoid Android9/10
Ex Machina has a very fitting sense of false intimacy. This is done visually as many of the close-ups are seen through glass. No matter how close we get to the subject on-screen, there always seems to be at least one wall of glass between us and it or them. The film also makes a very distinct contrast between it's interior and exterior shots. Outside of the facility is breathtaking landscapes. It is big, beautiful, refreshing and vibrant. Inside seems like an endless futuristic maze of glass, mirrors, plastic, chrome and dim lights. It is clean, cold and claustrophobic. A perfect setting for the subject that is explored in this tight, tense sci-fi thriller.

Ex Machina is the best science fiction film on artificial intelligence since Blade Runner. While Blade Runner is an action thriller that relies more on it's epic visuals to tell it's story, Ex Machina is a dialogue-driven psychological thriller that slowly works it's way under your skin. Thought-provoking and terrifyingly suspenseful, an induced state of paranoia may linger long after the end credits begin to roll.

The less you know going into a film like this, the better your experience will be. Alex Garland has given us a modern science-fiction masterpiece. Performances from all three leads are flawless and every other aspect of the production, from the cinematography to the soundtrack, is perfectly suited for the story. Not only is Ex Machina an amazing achievement for a directorial debut, it's Alex Garland's best written work to-date.