CIT Casting Review: Ex Machina

Alex Garland makes his directorial debut with the thought-provoking Ex Machina, a British Sci-Fi thriller that hit theaters in the U.S. on April 10th. This flick could quite possibly

I’m crossing my fingers for a sequel

hold the title as movie of the year for me. A brilliant cast intertwined with mesmerizing cinematography and an edge-of-your-seat plot makes for a breathtaking journey that is sure to be an instant classic. It’s not one of those films about robots we’ve seen a hundred times before…it takes us into another world that’s a bit more difficult to define. Alex Garland, writer of The Beach and 28 Days Later, has a way of unfolding a story so intricately that it always keep you guessing. He takes us on an incredible ride that focuses on the dynamics of the characters mainly, allowing the audience to attempt to discover the protagonist without spoon-feeding it to them.

The movie opens with Caleb, (Domhnall Gleeson) a coder at a Google-like company. We see Caleb winning an office lotto to spend a week with Nathan, (Oscar Isaac) the CEO of the business, at his remote estate. Once he arrives Caleb finds he will be the interviewer in a Turing Test with an A.I. (Alicia Vikander) that Nathan is attempting to perfect. Caleb will be responsible for coming up with the data to determine whether Nathan’s creation has consciousness. Caleb meets Ava, the A.I., and is instantly drawn to her comprehension and beauty. Their interaction starts out playful but quickly turns into quite riveting conversations; mostly during the frequent power outages when they know that Nathan isn’t watching them on the cameras. The film is a constant guessing game of who to trust, and we are with Caleb through all moments of confusion and realization.

Domhnall Gleeson is a native of Dublin, Ireland most noted for his roles in About Time and Never Let Me Go, and most recently Unbroken. He has a way of transforming his looks for every role, so it takes you a moment to recognize who he is. As an actor he has the ability to convey such a broad array of emotions, which is crucial to this story as we are with only three characters throughout the film. Gleeson has a sweetness and vulnerability that makes you trust him, like he could never hurt you, yet stored inside of him is a pit of rage that shocks you and pulls you in. The film requires a sensitive intellect that can shift into an unpredictable state at any moment, and Gleeson absolutely succeeds in portraying that in his character. Oscar Isaac plays a brilliant recluse who believes he is on his way to changing the world. Isaac studied acting at the prestigious Julliard and has been proving himself on the big screen ever since. His impressive performance in Inside Llewyn Davis put him on the map as a rising star.

The role of Nathan requires a certain depth and versatility…he is a billionaire yet seems to have a hard time in simple one-on-one interactions. He is brutal and fully aware of the corrupt world around him, yet in a way he knows that he has succumbed to the ways of the modern society.  Isaac has the arrogance of Stanley Tucci and the danger and cunning of Deniro. He is inviting without being forceful, with the undertones of a mad scientist. Nathan is also an avid drinker, which brings another element to the film as it gives him more of an excuse to have erratic mood swings, which in turn makes us question his moral standing. You can see more of Isaac in the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Alicia Vikander plays Ava, Nathan’s A.I. who attempts to gather her own information from Caleb. Vikander is also an up and coming actress who I am sure will gain much more recognition after this film. She has a wide-eyed Natalie Portman look to her, with the articulation and smarts to go along with it. That is most definitely the theme in the casting of Ex Machina, as all of the actors are highly intelligent people whose radiant depth is portrayed in their characters. I immediately noticed Alicia’s graceful movements and thought them profound for a “robot”. She comes from a dancing background in Sweden, but left the ballet to pursue her acting career. It seems that she created a totally new body language with Ava. There are moments when you watch her that you think she is just a beautiful girl, then the next she twitches her head in this amazing way that seems oddly terrestrial. She brings an ethereal, other-worldly quality to the film that puts the audience in a trance.

Another thing about the movie that I found inspiring was that it feels like this whole world Garland has created could actually be happening in this pristine, Garden-of-the-Gods-like area (Garland filmed in the mountains of Alstad, Norway). All around us are hints of a technological breakthrough where robots are roaming the earth and are as nonchalant to humans as our iPhones. The characters, Ava in particular, have brought on a more sympathetic way of looking at Artificial Intelligence; not just as a machine meant to help people but as an organism that has a desire to survive and thrive. I found the contrast between the beautiful scenery that Nathan inhabits and his high-tech household to be enchanting and just plain cinematic genius. I don’t normally say this, but I’m crossing my fingers for a sequel.

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Jess