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Review: 'Ex Machina' tackles issues of man, machine

Tom Long
The Detroit News

There's a grave, dangerous beauty to "Ex Machina," from the sleek architecture of its high-tech compound to its remote, green-glacial setting to the ethereal gaze of the beautiful robot at its core.

It's a fitting visual contrast of construction against nature which, after all, is what the movie's about. Writer-director Alex Garland (he wrote "28 Days Later") is working in tones simultaneously minimal and lush — few characters, cut off from the world yet living in a slick fortress, surrounded by wilderness and working out Big Questions of creation, intelligence and the future.

Which sounds a bit dreary, but instead is elegantly mesmerizing. Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is working for a Google-type corporation when he wins a contest. Soon he's being helicoptered off to the secret hideaway of the corporation's founder, Nathan (Oscar Isaac).

When he arrives, he discovers he's not on vacation. Nathan is enlisting Caleb to test out a robot he has created, Ava (Alicia Vikander, poised to be huge). The question: Is she a fully conscious being?

Caleb is initially thrilled to be part of such an experiment. But then shadows fall. Nathan, brilliant as he is, starts acting like a deluded mad scientist. And the innocent Ava expresses her distrust of her creator at the same time she becomes obviously attracted to Caleb. The weird thing is, despite the fact that she is basically a face glued on to a mechanical body, the attraction is mutual.

"Ex Machina" takes its time, wrestling with questions of responsibility, morality and compassion while getting ever weirder. At its heart is Ava, played with a fine blend of innocence and quiet panic by Vikander. There's never any doubt she can think for herself. The key is what she's thinking.



'Ex Machina'


Rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence

Running time: 108 minutes