The Machine film review
The Machine (2014)
Caity Lotz, Toby Stephens, Denis Lawson
Caradog W. James
Caradog W. James
CRITIC’S RATING: ** 1/2 stars (out of 4 stars)
There are selective moments where writer-director Caradog W. James’s The Machine runs as well as…eh, let’s say for a lack of a handier phrase “a well-oiled machine”. This low-budget dystopian drama revisits the familiar moral dilemma concerning the manipulative message of tapping into the “man vs. machine” realm–something that has been played out with more convincing regularity in better received sci-fi futuristic fables. Specifically, The Machine wants to elevate its spotlight on the deceptive signs of artificial intelligence and examine the costly consequences when mankind and the sophistication of robotics come to a declining standstill.
The depth of contemplation and conflict sometimes does not compute too consistently in The Machine. Nevertheless, James (“Little White Lies”) does ensure that his high-concept robotic romp incorporates viable traces of sleek-looking visuals and compelling pockets of tension that should characteristically lace small-time science fiction thrillers. Showing some promise as an inviting and thought-provoking British techno-mechanism vehicle, The Machine aptly registers with ambition when presenting a resourceful and stylish indie flick that fantasy-driven fanboys would react to with noted approval. Grim, edgy and hypnotic, James’s cyborg spectacle bases its functional foundation on clear influences that include heavy-hitters such as Bladerunner and Metropolis which is indeed a tall order for this low-level sci-fi actioner to achieve its challenging potency.
The British government yearns to be competitive with China in its mission to get an advantageous handle on the cold war politics involved. Hence, there exists a top secret project where the development of durable robots are being produced at an alarming rate to answer the technological progression of the Far East. In the center of this cold war storm is computer genius/scientist Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens)–an understanding and talented individual whose main duties are to construct these “mechanical menaces” for his country’s military brass. McCarthy’s robot-distribution loyalties are under the watchful eye of his army boss (Denis Lawson).
Although McCarthy is obligated to carry on his commitment in creating resilient robots as destructive weapons in the name of British national pride there is also a personalized perspective that he has to consider when designing these mechanical warriors in a drab and isolated bunker on the behalf of his militaristic superiors. McCarthy feels the need to address the plight of the hopeless and helpless (read: vulnerable human beings in need of assistance to help them cope with medical-related restrictions). Basically, he wants to better the saddened and destroyed lives of inflicted souls (this includes McCarthy’s own dying daughter) by having these super-powered androids inhabit the consciousness of the physically limp specimens. This way, McCarthy imagines, could restore whatever lingering humanity has been drained from these imperiled people.
Triggering McCarthy’s radical ideas for such an undertaking is pretty lab recruit Ava (Caity Lotz) who will serve as an experimental model soon to be known as The Machine–a curvaceous, cunning, combative and sexually-stimulating siren programmed for violent tendencies. Ava/The Machine is a nicely packaged enigma of sorts–flexible, defiant, durable and unpredictably wild. No doubt that Ava has transformed into a dynamic dangerous-minded diva as her “Machine” persona struggles with her new found existence and eventually spirals out of control.
The Machine does what it can effectively to raise the ethical and philosophical questions about the machinery replications of human emotion and compassion as an indifferent society delves deeper and deeper into the abyss of technical detachment. Again, James provides his intimate exposition with some riveting forethought but his insights are not exactly what one would label distinctively insightful or revolutionary. Still, The Machine operates somewhat admirably whenever it spouts off its retro-chic examination of our humanistic relationship with technology dependency. Sure, we recognize the borrowed themes as The Machine juggles its blueprint from the classic tale of Frankenstein to the gentle surreal disturbance of A Clockwork Orange. Thankfully, the film generates its brand of suspense courtesy of smart and intriguing performances contained in a compartmentalized caper that instinctively played to its low-key sci-fi confines.
So go and tinker around with this particular Machine as the parts are worthy of its overall sum.
NOTE: Focus of New York Magazine film critic Frank Ochieng is a member of: