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When we last saw Matt Damon’s former CIA hitman Jason Bourne he was busy swimming down the East River at the end of 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum, a film that provided a satisfying conclusion to a much-admired action movie trilogy. Nearly a decade later – and following in the wake of the misfiring spin-off The Bourne Legacy – director Paul Greengrass and his star have reunited to give us more of the same, which is a welcome diversion among the crowded summer blockbuster season, even if it can’t really be described as wholly necessary. Y’see, in order to facilitate Bourne’s return to action, Greengrass and his co-writer (also editor) Christopher Rouse have concocted yet another story in which our hero suffers from flashbacks that push him to investigate his past, which of course sets in motion a city-hopping game of cat and mouse between the former agent and the CIA, who want him dead. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as they say.

Initially in Jason Bourne we find the troubled, titular muscleman living off the grid and making money as a bare-knuckle fighter in Greece (cue lingering shots of Damon’s torso). We also discover that former CIA operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) is hanging out with a group of hackers in Finland, determined to expose secrets relating to the various black ops programs that have driven the plot of the series so far. (These are all sitting on CIA servers in a folder conveniently titled ‘Black Ops’, just waiting for a former, disgruntled employee to find them before blowing the whistle. In real life I presume such folders are given titles such as ‘My Litte Pony Fan Fiction’ to throw potential cybercriminals off the scent.) Eventually Parsons finds Bourne – best not to consider the logic of that one – and their meeting subsequently alerts the CIA to the fact that their former agent is still alive, so once again lots of special (although not too special) agents are deployed to wipe him out. Over at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Tommy Lee Jones plots and scowls in front of a bank of monitors while Alicia Vikander plots without scowling, the pair taking the place of former bigwigs-at-loggerheads played by the likes Chris Cooper, Scott Glenn, Brian Cox and Joan Allen. Concurrent with the usual mix of car chases, docudrama-style handheld camera, quick cuts, fist fights and lighnting-fast thinking is a rather uninvolving sub-plot featuring Riz Ahmed’s Zuckerberg-alike, which is little more than an unnecessary attempt to remind the audience that the world has changed since the last outing.

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Tommy Lee Jones and Alicia Vikander checking Facebook (again!) in Jason Bourne

There’s something vaguely cringeworthy nowadays about Bourne’s constant ability to remain one step ahead of the game, though in fairness Greengrass and previous director Doug Liman have spent lots of time establishing the character’s traits, and it would have been a bizarre move to deviate from the norm with this comeback. There’s also somethnig incredibly cringeworthy about the CIA’s ability to produce crystal clear image enhancements from blurry footage that has been captured on the hoof by agents using mini-telescopes, as well, but it’s the kind of technology that gets wheeled out from time to time and I guess I’m happy enough to give it a pass under the circumstances. Understandably some of the other tricks employed to move the story along also seem a little tired, such as the flashbacks and the CIA’s ability to see just about everything, everywhere (shudder), as well as their knack of having agents in place within seconds. Yet in truth this series still feels closer to reality than other similar and successful spy franchises, such as those featuring Ethan Hunt and James Bond, both of which require the audience to suspend so much disbelief their protagonists may as well be travelling from one location to the next on pink clockwork unicorns.

Despite all these grumbles, and despite the sameyness of it all, it’s easy enough just to go with the flow, and I found Jason Bourne to be quite an exhilerating, well-made action film as a result; one that manages to justify its own existence. (No surprise, really, given that I enjoyed the first three.) Granted we’re further into leave-your-brain-at-the-door territory than we’ve been before, but the two big set pieces in Athens and Las Vegas are gripping, fast-paced and full of admirable stunt work, and that’s exactly what I went to see the movie for…as opposed to a realistic discussion of privacy and social media in the current age. Damon slips back into his old role with little trouble, like he’s pulling on a favourite sweater, and Vincent Cassel has no problem getting to grips with this film’s one-dimensional big bad, as he’s mostly required to kill people without displaying any emotion whatsoever (and the requisite scene in which his character examines his stubble/cuts/bandages in a dirty safehouse mirror is well within his range, too). There’s nothing new here, but if you can stand Greengrass’s love for shakey-cam and disorienting quick cuts there’s still plenty of fun to be had.

Directed by: Paul Greengrass.
Written by: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse. Based on characters by Robert Ludlum.
Starring: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Riz Ahmed, Julia Stiles, Ato Essandoh.
Cinematography: Barry Ackroyd.
Editing: Christopher Rouse.
Music:
John Powell, David Buckley.
Certificate:
12A.
Running Time:
123.
Year:
2016.

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This Working Title production, directed by Tom Hooper and based on the novel by David Ebershoff, is an eminenlty tasteful drama that brings the story of Lili Elbe one of the first recipients of sex reassignment surgery in 1930 to the big screen. Eddie Redmayne stars as Einar Wegener, the Danish artist who transitioned and took the new name Lili, and he is joined here by Alicia Vikander (as Gerda, a fellow painter and Einar’s wife), Ben Whishaw, Sebastian Koch and Matthias Schoenaerts. All five have recently featured in other impressively-designed period dramas that shared, I imagine, similar target audiences, and the casting can perhaps be seen as indicative that the production company has played it a little too safe. Given that both the lead and the director have won Oscars in recent years, The Danish Girl is the kind of film that appears tailor-made for awards season, and it will attract plenty of cynicism and scorn from critics as a result of its failure to measure up. Redmayne’s performance is so attention-grabbing there’s no guessing how many times it’ll be referred to as ‘Oscar bait’ between the film’s release and the ceremony in question; there are times when both The Danish Girl and its lead actor threaten to live up to such lofty ambitions, though I should temper any expectation by pointing out there are just as many times when they do not.

The screenplay by Lucinda Coxon functions as a love story, first and foremost, and the pioneering gender reassignment operations are sadly a secondary concern. It’s notable that Vikander shares as much screen time as Redmayne, and the writer and director have plenty of interest in Gerda’s state of mind and perspective on Einar’s self-identification as a woman, rather than solely concentrating on Einar’s point-of-view and feelings. Coxon uses their artistic careers as a way of introducing the viewer to their relationship: at the beginning of the film landscape painter Einar is already successful and lauded in Denmark, with a burgeoning international reputation; Gerda’s own portraiture is deemed unfashionable. When Einar dresses as Lili at home and in public (pretending to be Einar’s female cousin) Gerda is initially amused, and later shows understanding and compassion as Einar’s desire to permanently transition becomes apparent. She (Gerda) also decides to use Lili as a subject for her own work, gaining greater recognition in the art world as a result; thus Gerda becomes known in bohemian circles in Paris, but Einar, who gradually spends more and more time dressed as Lili, becomes a near-recluse until learning of the supposedly-untested surgery by German doctor Hans Warnekros (Koch).

As Lili Eddie Redmayne gradually becomes more convincing.

As Lili Eddie Redmayne gradually becomes more convincing.

Redmayne delivers a performance that can obviously be likened to his Stephen Hawking in last year’s The Theory Of Everything. It’s very technical, and once again there’s an emphasis on physical contortion and gesture, but here it occasionally feels too mannered. Whether that’s the actor’s fault or Hooper’s is up for debate, but either way I found myself quickly tiring of all the lip-quivering and mimicking of feminine poses, even if it is designed to show Einar/Lili’s discomfort in a male body, as well as the pre-operation process of becoming a woman. However just at the point I’d decided that Redmayne is incapable of dialling it down a notch or ten such is his desire to fill every single scene with Acting, darling  I started noticing his mannerisms less and less: the more time he spends on screen as Lili the better he becomes, which is fitting seeing as Einar gradually gives way to Lili; he’s taken a knocking in some quarters but I like the way his performance changes here, and barring a couple of scenes near the end I ended up enjoying it. (Without wishing to spoil anything Redmayne’s final lines in The Danish Girl will bring back memories of his turn in Jupiter Ascending to anyone who saw it. I don’t think it’s intentional.)

The Danish Girl certainly looks good, or at least it’s successful in achieving a certain aesthetic through its production design and cinematography that’s supposedly synonymous with both good taste and good period drama. There’s a lot of use of shallow depth of field to isolate the main players Hooper wants you to notice the acting above everything else and the background colours, precise blocking and repetitive framing bring to mind his earlier work on The King’s Speech. The costumes are exemplary, and there’s a certain fetishisation at play with regard to some of the clothes the actors wear: I noticed many shots of Gerda’s black boots, and there’s even an amusing early scene in which she acts the dominatrix during a portrait sitting, but this isn’t really followed up in any meaningful way. Meanwhile ‘Einar’ repeatedly fondles the wigs, stockings and dresses worn by Lili, which initially seem to re-awaken the long-held feeling that ‘he’ is a woman in a man’s body when he dons them as a stand-in for a female model.

The film has already caused some controversy. Both Ebershoff’s novel and Coxon’s adapted screenplay ignore the fact that Gerda was openly lesbian, a move that some critics have labelled unnecessary. The casting of a cisgender actor in a transgender role was also met with plenty of criticism in print and online when Redmayne was announced. Writing in last month’s issue of Sight & Sound magazine, Vadim Rizov noted that ‘casting a cis actor as a trans character is a disrespectful mockery not far from blackface, marginalises trans performers in general and leverages trans issues and pain to gain awards-season recognition for a cis cast and crew’. However for most of the running time of The Danish Girl the character in question is biologically a man, a point that Rizov acknowledges. Yet this is at the root of my general ambivalence towards Hooper’s film, which I think could have explored the operations Lili Elbe underwent in greater detail (reduced from four to two here, and carried out by one doctor instead of two), and I would have been interested to see more of the character after she transitions. Lili is only biologically a woman for a relatively short period in The Danish Girl, and that to me seems like a cop-out: how typical of an awards-oriented film about a trangender character who transitions from male to female to focus primarily on the character’s time as ‘a man’.

I don’t doubt that Coxon or Hooper had good intentions, but sadly the finished film is patchy and the script is decidedly clunky. I’m sure I wasn’t suppose to laugh, for example, when Gerda’s scarf  previously owned and worn by Lili  flies off in the wind on a cliff-top and Vikander utters the words ‘let it go’. Similarly I don’t think I was supposed to giggle when Gerda, a Dane, utters the English colloquialism ‘toodle-oo’ before leaving the couple’s apartment. Sadly it’s these poorly-judged moments, rather than anything meaningful or poignant, that linger in the mind.

Directed by: Tom Hooper.
Written by: Lucinda Coxon. Based on The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff.
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Ben Whishaw, Matthias Schoenaerts, Sebastian Koch.
Cinematography: Danny Cohen.
Editing: Melanie Ann Oliver.
Music: Alexandre Desplat.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 119 minutes.
Year: 2016

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Son Of A Gun is a fairly typical crime thriller, and by that I mean it’s full of all the crime thriller stuff that will be familiar to most viewers: a seasoned, vicious, ruthless armed robber (played by Ewan McGregor, whose performances have begun to improve of late after a bit of a dip), a younger criminal taken under his wing (Brenton Thwaites, puppydog eyes at the ready), a rapidly-developing father/son or master/apprentice dynamic, a beautiful femme fatale (Alicia Vikander, who has been in approximately 68% of all new releases in 2015), a bad guy who is worse than the other bad guys, a few double crossings, some meetings and exchanges that take place on patches of wasteland, a couple of violent shootouts and a sprinkling of scenes featuring sweaty men on the run holed up in motel rooms. Though such material can hardly be described as original it’s all executed well enough, truth be told, and occasionally when the action is ramped up this Australian film is actually pretty exciting; director Julius Avery (also the writer) has a flair for set pieces, and Son Of A Gun includes two in the middle that many of the genre’s more seasoned filmmakers would be proud of a simple but tense prison break and a daring gold bullion heist, leading to a fierce gun battle with the cops and a high speed car chase.

That said, some of it is fairly hokey. Thwaites’ character JR meets McGregor’s Brendan Lynch and his cohorts in prison, with a chess game offering up some common ground before Avery turns it into a rather obvious metaphor for all the moves that follow on the outside. Lynch and his men can protect JR from being raped by other inmates, so it makes sense for him to buddy up when the offer comes, but it’s surprising just how quickly (and easily) JR fits into the armed robbery gang when the action moves away from the prison; JR’s six month stint in the big house is apparently for a minor crime, yet before long he’s acting like a career criminal, which is completely at odds with the character’s shyness and inexperience (he can’t swim and Vikander’s Tasha has to teach him how to use chopsticks). This naivety is kind of necessary in terms of selling the final act, but the character’s inherent contradictions take some credibility away from the screenplay. Ach…I don’t want to be too hard on it: it’s a muscular, slick film, very well paced, and considering it’s a first feature Avery shows plenty of promise.

Directed by: Julius Avery.
Written by: Julius Avery.
Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Ewan McGregor, Alicia Vikander, Jacek Koman, Matt Nable, Tom Budge.
Cinematography: Nigel Bluck.
Editing: Jack Hutchings.
Music: 
Jed Kurzel.
Certificate:
15.
Running Time:
109 minutes.
Year:
2015.

9 Comments

The-Man-from-U.N.C.L.E.-2015-WallpapersThis light, breezy comedy-thriller by Guy Ritchie doesn’t have all that much in common with its TV show predecessor, other than the basic conceit of uniting an American CIA agent and a Russian KGB operative as a Cold War odd couple, but it does an effective enough job as an origin story; such films are ten-a-penny these days, and this is no less deserving of a franchise than anything else out there, but moderate success at the box office earlier this year may well put the brakes on a mooted sequel actually being made. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer star as the charismatic Napoleon Solo and the reserved Illya Kuryakin respectively, and the pair share plenty of easy chemistry on screen, where both characters make clear their mistrust and misgivings while also displaying a childlike desperation to impress the opposite number; Ritchie’s screenplay imbues their awkward professional relationship with a slight homoerotic edge, but rather than anything serious it would have been a welcome surprise to see openly gay heroes in a mainstream action film, for once – this is all firmly in keeping with the tone of the film and is established through comic innuendo. Sadly I guess anything beyond that might put some people off, even in this day and age, so we’ll have to wait for another director to go for it. There are no risks taken with the plot, either. Rather than getting bogged down in the nitty gritty of the deals and political wranglings on either side of the Iron Curtain, Ritchie moves the pair on from gloomy Berlin to a caper in the dolce vita of mid-’60s Rome at a fairly early stage, and the latter setting informs the film’s style: all sharp suits, men in speedboats, swanky event flirtations, Cinecittà strings and swish hotel rooms. Joining in the fun are Alicia Vikander, who plays a mechanic tied to a family of Nazi-sympathisers-stroke-nuclear-weapons-enthusiasts, and Hugh Grant, who Hugh Grants his way through a minor role as a besuited British spy chief. The emphasis is on fun and froth, as with Ritchie’s previous brace of Sherlock Holmes films, and all told he makes a good fist of it. If your expectations are low you will probably be entertained: the story is as plain as they come but The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is all about the eye candy, while the soundtrack jumps very tastefully from soul (Roberta Flack, Solomon Burke) to sweeping, grandiose Italian period scores and the set pieces are laced with good humour.

Directed by: Guy Ritchie.
Written by: Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram (screenplay), Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram, Jeff Kleeman, David C. Wilson (story). Based on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. by Ian Fleming, Norman Felton and Sam Rolfe.
Starring: Armie Hammer, Henry Cavill, Alicia Vikander, Hugh Grant, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris.
Cinematography: John Mathieson.
Editing: James Herbert.
Music:
Daniel Pemberton, Various.
Certificate:
12A.
Running Time:
116 minutes.
Year:
2015.

10 Comments

Alicia-Vikander-as_3141524bI missed Testament Of Youth, which is based on the bestselling First World War memoirs of writer, pacifist, feminist and nurse Vera Brittain, when it was released in the UK earlier this year. It received several positive reviews and it’s not difficult to see why: conventional it may be, but it’s also a confident, classy debut feature by James Kent, it serves as a moving anti-war piece and it features good performances by the ensemble cast, which is headed up by the impressive Alicia Vikander. She plays Brittain between the ages of 20 and 24, a young woman who knows her own mind and is unwilling to follow the path through life that has been mapped out by her wealthy industrialist father (played by Dominic West): he wants her to settle down, find a suitable man to marry and have children, whereas she intends to study English Literature at Oxford and to become a writer. She does gain a place at the university, though the onset of war provokes a change in direction, and during the conflict she becomes a nurse, serving in England, Malta and finally close to the front line in France. So it’s one of those films that concentrates on an idyllic summer to begin with all sun-dappled pools and the promise of romance in the lovely environs of the Peak District, though some footage was apparently shot on the North Yorkshire Moors before we see several bright young things, including Vera, enthusiastically sign up for military service and subsequently endure the worst of experiences. We don’t witness much in the way of re-staged warfare, as the film naturally sticks with Brittain’s own perspective and experiences throughout, but the effects of the conflict slowly take over: the youthful, carefree spirit prevalent in the early part of the story dissipates, the English countryside and twin sanctuaries of home and college giving way to mud-caked field hospitals where wards are overflowing and bodies stack up in piles.

This transition, from romantic period drama to a film heavily concerned with the attendant horrors of war on the front line, ensures that Testament Of Youth becomes a bloody and grim film, albeit still a 12A release in the UK, and its second half is suffused with a necessary sadness: death and mourning is everywhere, final words are spoken and conversations become ever more poignant. Frames are gradually filled with amputees, men with open, gaping wounds, dead fighters or dying soldiers spluttering their last breaths and much more, and Brittain and her fellow nurses are understandably shocked and overwhelmed. During this period of her life the writer tried to save the lives of cdn.indiewire.comGerman soldiers as well as allied forces, and this experience understandably helped to shape her own pacifist views, the formation of which serves as a kind of crescendo to Kent’s film. Brittain’s real-life nine month stint in Malta is truncated for the purposes of this particular adaptation, but this does at least allow greater focus on the horrific situation she found herself in in France, where both sides suffered so many casualties; one crane shot gradually reveals that a field next to Brittain’s hospital is overflowing with wounded or dead infantrymen, all being attended to in rows by a mere handful of overworked nurses. It’s a harrowing sight, and allows us to understand why Brittain had mixed feelings with regard to 1918’s Armistice Day, seen fleetingly in flag-waving glory at the beginning of the film. By the end there is an inescapable feeling of melancholy caused by all this loss, which is subtly reinforced by a montage that revisits several of the film’s earlier settings, now unpeopled.

The story simultaneously charts Brittain’s relationships through the war years with fiancé Roland (Kit Hartington), brother Edward (Taron Edgerton) and friend Victor (Colin Morgan), three young men who sign up for the fight abroad. The romance with Roland is played out straightforwardly via key moments (parting as a train departs a busy station, reunited on a windswept beach, etc) but it worked well enough for me. During the early scenes Hartington seems incapable of wiping an ingratiating smirk off his face, but he gets better as his character’s feelings for Brittain are complicated by the traumatic experience of trench warfare, and this is the best I’ve seen him outside of Game Of Thrones. Testament Of Youth is impeccably shot by Rob Hardy, who is himself gaining a reputation as a director of note, and there is fine attention to period detail, particularly with regard to the Brittain family house (though the action is largely confined to a drawing room, a yard, a bedroom and a hall). Vikander is excellent, ensuring that Brittain retains a quiet dignity throughout, and she is ably supported by those actors mentioned above; there are also minor roles for Emily Watson, Hayley Atwell and Miranda Richardson, the latter stealing her brief scenes as a matronly Oxford scholar. A shame, then, that Kent’s film has largely been slept on by cinemagoers, though that’s hardly a surprise given that it was released in the middle of winter in the UK, when the big awards season hitters usually land, and during the summer blockbuster season elsewhere, which is a tough beat for a traditional period romance (or indeed a war film that doesn’t show soldiers fighting). But it is worth seeking out if you haven’t done so already.

Directed by: James Kent.
Written by: Juliette Towhidi.
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Kit Hartington, Colin Morgan, Taron Edgerton, Dominic West, Emily Watson, Hayley Atwell, Miranda Richardson.
Cinematography: Rob Hardy.
Editing: Lucia Zucchetti.
Music:
Max Richter.
Certificate:
12A.
Running Time:
129 minutes.
Year:
2015.

9 Comments

Ex-Machina  big_0A Most Violent Year and Ex Machina were both released on the same day over here on the small, angry island known as the UK, and both star the versatile Oscar Isaac, which is interesting because his roles in the two films are wildly different. In A Most Violent Year, J.C. Chandor’s brooding anti-gangster period film, Isaac plays a Colombian businessman trying to stay on the straight and narrow despite extreme pressure from both sides of the law. Here, in Alex Garland’s smart and icy-cool sci-fi, Isaac portrays a creepy tech-Svengali who also happens to be the reclusive CEO of a Google-style multinational named Bluebook. Commendably he is completely convincing in both films.

His co-star in Ex Machina is Domhnall Gleeson, who will also appear with Isaac in the upcoming Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I’d like to think that Garland and his producers had wry smiles on their faces when the Star Wars cast was announced; the presence of Isaac and Gleeson in this film should result in a boost at the box office as curious sci-fi fans will be keen to see the two together.

Ex Machina is a strong work in its own right, though, and is worth seeing even if you’re non-plussed by JJ Abrams’ forthcoming blockbuster. Garland’s film is set almost entirely in one house, a modern architectural marvel that fits into its stunning mountain valley setting comfortably and has been kitted out by the kind of people who treat minimalism as if it were a religious doctrine. In a Bond film, or even an Austin Powers spoof, it could easily be the villain’s lair, but you can also picture an interminably smug couple overseeing its construction in an episode of the long-running TV show Grand Designs. The setting allows for greater concentration on the main characters and the way in which their relationships develop during the course of the story, which is key. There’s little action, but instead Garland and his cast successfully mine the same strand of unsettling tech-paranoia found in several episodes of Charlie Brooker’s excellent TV series Black Mirror (even replicating the cruel, downbeat sting in the tale that Brooker seems to favour).

Gleeson plays Caleb, a Bluebook coder who wins an in-company competition to spend a week with Isaac’s Nathan at this large house, which serves a dual purpose as the CEO’s remote research facility. A forced friendship is quickly established, with the tentative Caleb encouraged to relax by his vain host, whose predilection for twisting words quickly reveals an unchallenged, rapidly-developing god complex. Upon his arrival Caleb learns that Nathan has been developing a humanoid artificial intelligence, resulting in a cyborg named Ava (Alicia Vikander), and that his job is to perform a week-long Turing Test to determine just how successful Nathan has been. Has Ava developed the ability to feel emotions such as love? Will Caleb himself fall in love with Ava, built with sexuality in mind by Nathan, who recognises its historical importance to evolutionary steps? And just what secrets lie behind the doors Caleb cannot open with his freshly-minted keycard?

It plays like an extended, modern riff on the Voight-Kampff test seen in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and Ex Machina also follows that film’s lead with its subsequent examination of the ability of humanoids to survive in a human-controlled world, and whether or not they can genuinely feel emotion. It also brings to mind Spike Jonze’s Her, the similar themes contained in Garland’s adapted screenplay for Never Let Me Go, and Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, though this movie is far more low-key in the way that it raises its questions and in the way that it presents its thrills than that blockbuster.

It feels sufficiently of its time, too. Basing the story around a fictional company that began life as ‘the world’s biggest search engine’ allows Garland, who also wrote the screenplay, to highlight several (real life) concerns relating to privacy and the collection of big data in both predictable and inventive ways. The cameras and security systems built into Nathan’s house are manipulated in a simple game of cat-and-mouse by the three main characters in this story (there is a supporting fourth character, named Kyoko, played by Sonoya Mizuno), which hints at the disturbing control-freakery that lies behind such monitoring, while Garland also incorporates several minor but relevant plot points relating to search engine terms and our own control over the technology we use (principally those smartphones we seem to love so much). For the most part it’s smart, zeitgeist-surfing material that assumes its audience is intelligent, but crucially it never alienates through constant middle-brow theorising.

Isaac and Gleeson can both be happy with their work here, but Vikander’s performance is crucial, and she does an excellent job, delivering a performance that includes a heavy degree of blank naivety or innocence while occasionally revealing warmth, sensuality and even conspiratorial panic. We see Vikander’s / Ava’s face and parts of her body, but otherwise it’s a CGI clear shell that reveals the inner machinations devised by Nathan. The body looks great – and I mean that in a non-seedy way – and I like the fact that Garland goes to great lengths to explain why his cyborg has sex appeal.

Garland has exceeded my expectations as a director too. It’s an assured debut, looking to the increasingly-looming spectre of Stanley Kubrick for inspiration, and copping plenty from that master’s formalist approach: the lighting, sound and set design, lingering shots of bland corridors and editing are all clearly important to the filmmaker and, added together, make for a distinctly cold and clinical milieu. Every now and again he has the confidence to break away from the prevailing mood of the film, though, which is nice to see; there’s one terrific dance scene here, for example, that completely works even though it is at odds with the rest of the film. It’s nice to see a few risks taken, and for the most part the approach pays off in an entertaining fashion.

It’s not perfect, though, and there are some touches that are a little heavy-handed: he’s overly fond of a reflection or a mirror image to hint at duplicity, and there are a few too many shots of the natural world around the house to ram home the nature vs nurture angle, for starters. Additionally, if I’m going to be picky, I’d argue that the relationship between Ava and Caleb develops a little too quickly and the film hinders itself with its one week timeframe. There are also small holes in the plot, particularly with regard to the ending, but by and large it’s a smart and pertinent sci-fi with a satisfyingly odd, dark streak at its core.

The Basics:
Directed by: Alex Garland
Written by: Alex Garland
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno
Certificate: 15
Running Time: 108 minutes
Year: 2015
Rating: 7.5

19 Comments