Watch CBS News

"Ex Machina" SXSW Movie Review

Photo courtesy of A24

"Ex Machina" (2015)

The highlight of SXSW Film Festival and my favorite movie of the year so far, "Ex Machina" is a masterpiece of simplistic Sci-Fi at its best. A film that combines elements of "Blade Runner" and "2001" with a bit of "Sleuth" thrown in for good measure.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) works as a coder for the world's pre-eminent search engine, Bluebook. Much to his surprise, he wins a contest of a lifetime, a chance to spend a week with the creator of Bluebook, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), on his isolated estate.  Right away, Caleb realizes that this will be no ordinary week, as the helicopter pilot sets him down in the middle of nowhere Alaska and tells him to follow the river upstream. After finding the house, Caleb meets Nathan and is given two options; he can sign the mother of all confidentiality agreements that restrict just about every aspect of his life, or not sign the agreement and just party with Nathan for the week. If Caleb does not sign the agreement, he will never find out what secret project that Nathan has been working on. Very quickly, Caleb decides to sign, as it's just too much of an opportunity to pass up.

Photo courtesy of A24

It turns out that Nathan has been working on developing Artificial Intelligence that the world has never seen.  He has brought Caleb to evaluate the A.I.. His assignment, to determine if it is truly an independent thinker, a robot capable of individual thoughts and feelings. Caleb meets the A.I. , a beautiful robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander).  Almost from the start Caleb is smitten with Ava, and they hit it off from their first conversation. As Caleb interacts more with both Nathan and Ava, it is very evident that there is something more to this experiment than Nathan is willing to reveal. The big question is what is Nathan planning for this A.I. and will he succeed?

Writer/director Alex Garland has created a world of search engines and Artificial Intelligence that could be five years into the future, or it could be present day. The film tackles a number of subjects including; just how much information do our search engines gather on us, can computers develop independent thoughts and if they do ever get truly independent thought will it pose a danger to man.

Photo courtesy of A24

Garland has created a movie that is a chess game between its two main human characters. It's a game that both players think they can win.  Nathan is arrogant and sure that he is the smartest one in the room, no matter if it is a robot or a human. He sees robots and fellow humans, as just servants to him, their only purpose is to do his bidding. Caleb isn't as confident as Nathan but he believes in doing the right thing, and that good intentions will ultimately win out. As Caleb falls in love Ava, he begins to see her as an individual, not a robot.

The look of this film is a cool, modern look that is rarely open to space and becomes more claustrophobic as the film goes on. Director of Photography Rob Hardy, plays with these spaces, showing instead of two people talking on screen, one person is often shown  just in reflections of the objects in the rooms. It's as if that reflection isn't a real person talking, and in the case of Ava, it isn't.  Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury scored the film and it perfectly matches the scenes, bringing the tension into almost every scene.

Photo courtesy of A24

The three principals actors are all up to carrying out the task of slowly revealing the fascinating and twisted plot. Alicia Vikander gives a brilliant performance as the A.I. Ava, All the more remarkable because most of her torso is robotic and see through, meaning that only her face is really available to show emotions and meaning. Vikander is perfect in the role, reminiscent of Sean Young.  You can see why Caleb falls hard for Ava, as she reveals more and more of her personality to Caleb, slowly but surely putting him under her spell. Oscar Isaac, playing the ego mad inventor, gives one of the best performances of his career. He is mesmerizing up on the screen.  Isaac gives the sort of performance that you almost like Nathan in spite of his boorish behavior. Of the three, Domhnall Gleeson, has the hardest role. Initially, it looks as if his character is overmatched with the blustery Nathan. Appearing at first quite shy and unsure of himself, Gleeson's Caleb, becomes stronger and more driven as the two men try to outwit each other. Gleeson shows remarkable range and at times let's Caleb wear his heart on his sleeve.

"Ex Machina" is one of the best films of the year and will be the standard bearer of great Sci-Fi films for years to come.  My Rating:  I Would Pay to See it Again

My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again

"Ex Machina" Website

 "Ex Machina" will be in theaters 4/10/15

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.