Quantcast
subscriber help

artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Machine review: brain underpower

The Machine yellow light

The bleak chic of this SF drama is intriguing, but the script that starts out smart and elegant soon slips into the shoddy and familiar.
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m a big SF geek

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

In the near future — oh so near — the West is mired in a cold war with China and the U.K. is in deep recession. But AI scientist Vincent (Toby Stephens: Severance) has an unlimited budget for his MOD project: developing an AI brain for a robot soldier for the war that, his boss (Denis Lawson: The Wee Man) assures him, “is coming.” And when American researcher Ava (Caity Lotz) brings him her uniquely smart AI program, it might be the final piece in the puzzle that Vincent has been trying to solve… Welsh writer-director Caradog W. James has crafted, on an apparently tiny budget, a visually intriguing science fiction drama — set almost entirely in an underground bunker on a remote military base, it oozes a sort of bleak chic I haven’t seen before — but one that lets a script that starts off smart and even elegant slip into the shoddy and familiar. For instance, Vincent tells the newly arrived Ava a lie about the work they’re doing to cover up some insidious aspects of it, but it’s a lie that Ava will inevitably uncover… and so what seemed to be some potentially challenging slipperiness on Vincent’s part ends up as nothing but a cheap driver of the plot. The truly thrilling early scene, for another instance, in which Vincent applies a Turing test to Ava’s AI — to see if it can fool a human into believing it is itself human — devolves into matters of computer consciousness and emotion that Star Trek: The Next Generation has already explored much more fully, and 20 years ago at that. There are some interestingly horrifying things here — such as the soldiers with devastating head injuries, including Suri (Pooneh Hajimohammadi) and James (Sam Hazeldine: The Monuments Men), who have gotten a brain boost from implants Vincent invented — but the film’s initial ambitions seem forgotten by the end. Perhaps the most provocative aspect of the film is that while Star Trek had to project its speculation about AI centuries into the future, The Machine is utterly plausible in setting them as close as the day after tomorrow. It’s a chilling reminder at how far we’ve come in mere decades.


Like what you’re reading? Sign up for the daily digest email and get links to all the day’s new reviews and other posts.

shop to support Flick Filosopher

Independent film criticism needs your support to survive. I receive a small commission when you purchase almost anything at iTunes (globally) and at Amazon (US, Canada, UK):

    
The Machine (2014)
US/Can release: Apr 25 2014 (VOD Apr 8 2014)
UK/Ire release: Mar 21 2014 (VOD same day)

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated WWDT? (who would Data Turing?)
MPAA: rated R for violence and some language
BBFC: rated 15 (strong bloody violence)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    Darn. Had hopes.

    Do they ever explain why the ultimate soldier prototype is a pretty woman?

    AI turns out to be even harder than building walking robots, which is pretty hard in itself.

  • It’s worth a look.

    Yes, there’s a reason why the prototype looks like it does. But not a particularly good one.

  • RogerBW

    Now seen. Yeah, I don’t regret the time spent watching it, but I agree, it felt terribly hackneyed at times. Yeah, I’ve seen 2001 and Blade Runner, thanks.

    As for that reason, a child of five could see the disaster coming: these black projects really need a better HR department and hiring policy.

    Now there’s an idea for a film…

Pin It on Pinterest