This was a hard review to write, because the ideas brought up in this movie are fun for me to talk about, but this is a spoiler free review. All the plot details referred to here are part of a general synopsis, and set up the basic plot of the movie.
The story centers around four scientists that are trying to create a true A.I. (Artificial Intelligence). When one of them gets mortally wounded, they try to upload that person's mind into a computer. Whether or not they are successful is sort of the whole point of the film. Is what they created really that person? Or is it just a very advanced machine with no real ability to conceptualize morality and ethics as more than just abstract definitions?
Where the filmmakers go, and how they approach this idea, is fascinating. They don't take the easy way out, and the actions of the characters are often morally gray. The villains aren't necessarily evil, and the heroes aren't necessarily making the right choices. That's a difficult thing to process as a viewer, and can come across as confused and plodding. Except they never lose the characters to logical missteps or moronic plot contrivances.
Perhaps a part of the reason why the characters feel genuine to me is the amazing cast. Morgan Freeman added heart and sincerity to his part as the older friend who had the thankless task of providing some exposition for the audience. Paul Bettany was very sympathetic, but tortured and passionate as the conflicted best friend to our main duo. He had the hardest arc to connect to, but he did it well. I do wish they had focused a bit more on him during the middle of the movie, but that's just a small nitpick on my part.
As for the main characters, we got Johnny Deep playing a much more human character than some of his more recent performances. He came across as likable and easy to sympathize with, while at the same time he was also a bit inhuman and detached. But it was Rebecca Hall that carried the movie. Her performance was amazing, from the small emotions she had to convey, to the complex stuff that lesser actors would've had trouble pulling off. She was the soul of the movie, and if I hadn't connected with her character, the rest wouldn't have worked.
Then there was the effects work and the cinematography. All functioned within the story to convey the scope and substance of the events, instead of the effects driving the story forward. The result was impressive, but not quite flawless. Although most of the shots were simply gorgeous, occasionally things on the screen were a bit busy. Not exactly distracting or hard to follow, but there were moments where it felt like there was too much going on and the flow of the scene got a bit lost. Which was most notable in the final act.
All in all though, this was a very good attempt by a first time director (Wally Pfister) and a first time writer (Jack Paglen). It isn't a movie for everyone, and it is pretty slow in sections, but I liked it quite a bit. This is hard science fiction, and it probably isn't going to make a mint at the box office or get universal praise from critics. I do strongly recommend it for anyone who enjoys a film that at least tries to delve into more complex ideas. Whether this film succeeds is probably a matter of opinion, but I think it's worth watching anyway.
3 out of 4 Sunflowers blooming beneath a Faraday cage.
J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related. He reviews Arrow, The Originals and Farscape and cool new movies that strike his fancy.