Film Review: Ex Machina

I really wasn’t sure what to make from Ex Machina. I read a feature piece on it in a film magazine many, many months ago and was intrigued, keeping a wandering eye out for it’s arrival; but then, when I caught the trailer I was less than convinced. I came away with prejudgmental ideas of a film based in Science Fiction but with a little too much Fiction backed up with not enough Science.

And every time I saw the trailer, this idea of a film of over stretched plausibility grew and grew. But then, the reviews started coming out, people started declaring it brilliant, Mark Kermode made it his film of the week, and I questioned whether I’d totally misjudged it. I decided to give it a chance.

Total Film Cover - Cast Ex Machina

Ignoring any worry about plot, one of the other fears I had towards it was Domhnall Gleeson. When I first saw him in About Time, I thought he fitted his role perfectly, and was a talent to watch, but his performances in Frank and Unbroken made me question that. I was starting to find him repetitive behind the eyes. He never felt truly in character. He was an actor relaying direction. However, in this he is back to original best. If anything this is by far the strongest performance I have seen him give. I bought directly into him and very quickly came to see him as the character, not the actor. His personality, his mannerisms, his life all real but all changed.

Oscar Isaac once again just continues his meteoric rise and his ability to transform into each part so effortlessly, a skill very few can master with such impressive results. Yes, a serious beard and a close shave haircut make the visual illusion easier, but that’s just surface details, if you compare his performance to other roles like The Two Faces Of January or Inside Llewyn Davis, the quality is up there as expected but you’ll instantly forget it’s being given by the same man.

It’s Alicia Vikander though who really steals the show. I’d seen her before in The Fifth Estate and Anna Karenina, but if I’m honest, completely forgotten so, and in such a small cast, facing seriously impressive competition I never once felt she looked overawed, over shadowed or out of her depth. In fact, and the impressively CGI transformation may play a large part in this, when she is on screen you cannot take your eyes off her. She commands the focus of the room. This is her film.

Futuristic Artificial Intelligence - Ex Machina

Ex Machina’s foundation is cemented in it’s plot. As I said, I was worried beforehand that it was going to be too futuristic; too robotic projection, foreseeing a digital idea beyond capability, but I’ve completely misunderstood the film. It isn’t about technology. It’s about the fundamental questions of human life. It wants to make you think, to make you ask yourself, right down at your very inner core, exactly how you see the world? How you interact with the world? And with the people in it. It wants to talk to you about the moral, ethical and evolutional questions that define everything about us. About being alive. It even wants to subtly and without gaze tackle the question of religion.

The plot has the compressive strength to hold up the weight of it’s script. To carry such encompassing questions.

However, that isn’t Ex Machina’s greatest strength. It reserves that extra layer of quality for it’s emotional power. It feels like an orchestra, perfectly in tune conducted by an absolute genius. Every note perfectly executed and timed. Positioned for maximum purpose and effect. Ex Machina knows exactly what sensation it wants you to feel. It knows the strength it needs to define it and how to hold it for just the right length of time to ensure you feel it, understand it’s motive and accept it’s reason.

Orchestra - Ex Machina

And what an emotional ride it is. It stirs everything inside you, pick an emotion: good and bad, and I promise you’ll feel it’s crescendo deep down inside. Touching your inner core. And don’t expect any easy ride, because it’ll hit you as hard as it wants without warning. It doesn’t just want to suggest. It doesn’t want balance. It wants to get inside your head, your whole body and then stay there. And it’s prepared to use whatever means and force is necessary to get there. But it doesn’t need to worry because honestly, it walks in, without any resistance what so ever.

All is not 100% great and good though. It is masterly produced and oozes scripted quality but I found it became slightly too much about two-thirds of the way in. It’s not a long film, only 90 minutes or so, and it doesn’t drag but there is just one point where I found it held me emotionally low, for just a little bit too long. It just because a little bit too uncomfortable. I wanted it to move on before it was prepared to do so.

I’m also not a fan of its ending. I just felt Ex Machina took one too many steps. It tries to add just another layer to its story, to round things out and reconnect it’s visual conclusions to an existing idea, and I didn’t think it really worked because it wasn’t needed. For me, there was a moment, just before when it felt naturally over. That moment when you relax, outwardly breath, and you part ways with the film. And when it happens, it just feels right, so be suddenly presented with one more scene, one more idea, wasn’t wanted. The tension between us had broken and therefore, I couldn’t go back. It lost all impact.

I had completely misjudged Ex Machina and have discovered one of the best films I have seen in a very, very long time. Like Whiplash, it has become reflectively and ponderably stuck in my head, I just want to sit, and think. I want to relive it’s questions and ask myself for answers. Honestly, I cannot recommend it enough. It. Is. Stunning.

9 out of 10 stars (9 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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