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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 04.24.14] United Kingdom scifi thriller

Stories about artificial intelligence have been a long running staple of science fiction for good reason. The concept of creating consciousness is closely tied with humanity's god complex and the want, and for some need, to create something out of nothing; particularly something as complicated as the essence of humanity and our ability to formulate thought and to empathize. Be it the doomsday scenario of The Terminator or The Matrix or the slightly less end-of-days Blade Runner or A.I. Artificial Intelligence, the many facets of both the advantages and repercussions of AI have been mined from many angles and The Machine offers up yet another take on the concept of sentient machines.

In a near future where the rest of the world is in a cold war against China, Vincent (Toby Stephens) is a talented programmer working with the Ministry of Defence on a program to develop brain implants that help soldiers suffering from debilitating war injuries live better lives. At least that's the cover story Vincent and his employers tell the public. In reality, the MoD is using Vincent's advances to turn already injured soldiers into fighting machines but Vincent is also pursuing his own agenda: developing a chip that could help his sick daughter lead a normal life.

Enter Ava (Caity Lotz), a talented scientist who has created an AI that assimilates information in a way Vincent has never seen. She's hired to further develop her AI under the watchful eye o Vincent at the MoD but when she starts poking her nose into secret operations, questioning authority and generally ruffling feathers, head honcho Thomson takes drastic measures that result in the creation of the titular Machine, a Terminator-like robot with human features and parts of Ava's memories and consciousness.

The Machine sets itself apart from most of the other AI movies by not relying on action to move the story forward. Though from early on there are rogue elements that suggest a revolution of some sort isn't too far away, writer/director Caradog W. James doesn't rely solely on action. There are some great action sequences but the The Machine is far more interested in ideas, discussions and mining the deep and rich discussions around repercussions of sentient AI. There are glimpses of what the technology could mean for the general public but James, smartly, doesn't go there because that's not the story he's telling. He's concerned with Ava and Vincent's story, their relationship and how what the pair create and discover affects their immediate lives. That's no to say James is blind to how Vincent's work will change the world around him but James isn't persuaded by the appeal of telling the story of the fall of society at the hands of machines, leaving that for another day and perhaps another movie. His focus and control of the story at hand is impressive and is one of the reasons The Machine is so effective.

It certainly doesn't hurt that Toby Stephens is excellent in the role of Vincent and while I didn't care much for Lotz's in the role of the human scientist, I did really like her counterpart performance as the Machine. It's a careful balancing act of humanity and robotic precision and she nails it. Also impressive, particularly considering the moderate budget, are the top notch effects and Tom Raybould's excellent score.

The Machine might be small in scope but keeping it small allows for an interesting, fully developed story that suggests bigger things just out of reach while never making it feel like you're missing some key part of the story. It's a bold choice and a successful one: I'd love to see James and his crew return to this universe to tell more stories.

The Machine is now available on VOD and opens theatrically on April 25.

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Digger (8 years ago) Reply

The first 2/3rds of the film are some of the most beautiful and haunting ever laid down. I was *riveted*, but the last 1/3rd isn't all that good, it's let down by a hollywood style ending, where it really didn't need one. Nonetheless, I urge any fans of robotics to check it out.

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