Klavan On The Culture

Review: Ex Machina

For a while there, Oscar Isaac seemed to be making a career out of delivering terrific performances in highly praised but mediocre films. This time, in Ex Machina, he does better.

The critics loved Inside Llewyn Davis, Drive and A Most Violent Year. Drive was the best of those, but none of them was really all that good. In each, however, Isaac’s acting was well beyond spectacular in its realism and bristling macho energy. It’s a joy to watch him work.

He’s perfect for his role in Ex Machina. Writer-Director Alex Garland specializes in philosophical sci-fi powered by subtle and not-so-subtle battles for male dominance.  His powerful novel The Beach and his cult flick Sunshine are good examples. I can’t remember if his big hit, 28 Days Later, was also about male dominance battles, but I’m not going to watch it again to find out because zombies can’t move that fast.

In Ex Machina, the philosophy is about artificial intelligence, and the antler butting takes place between a young programmer played by Domhnall Gleeson and a great computer genius played by Isaac. The prize is a hot android played by the likewise hot Alicia Vikander. Isaac’s guy calls in Gleeson’s guy to Turing test whether Vikander’s bot has real intelligence or just apparent intelligence. And, of course, since Vikander’s bot is Vikander, Gleeson’s guy becomes attracted to her. Gleeson and Vikander are both great, by the way, but Isaac is so unbelievably real and nuanced and alive that he commands every scene he’s in.

And the picture is good, far better than anything else Isaac has done for my money. More a play than a movie really. In fact, if it had been a play, with the right special effects, it would have been one of the great evenings in the theater. As a movie, it’s small but still intelligent and gripping.

It’s still in some theaters but it comes out on DVD next week.