I’m not afraid to say I’m a fan of Tom Cruise. If ever there was a genuine ‘movie star’ this guy is it and has been in some of the greatest movies ever made, as well as always being a watchable and likeable presence. This latest effort follows the true story of Barry Seal, an airline pilot who inexplicably becomes embroiled in drug running for notorious drug baron Pablo Escobar as well as working for the CIA. It’s an unbelievably crazy story that also just happens to be based on real events.
Doug ‘the bourne identity’ Liman’s movie certainly follows a similarly erratic, caper approach to it’s story telling as seen in movies like The Wolf of Wall Street and even seems to echo TV hit Breaking Bad, what with Cruise’s gradually spiralling out of control situation, hiding money, trying not to get killed whilst also looking out for his wife and kid. Cruise brings his usual charisma to his performance but it’s refreshingly free of those typical Cruise-isms making for a more believable and human performance than we’ve seen in a while. Add to this welcome support from a slimy Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina, The Last Jedi) and assured direction from Liman and I had a great time with this.
I was surprised how little focus the movie has on Pablo Escobar, reducing the man to little more than a cameo. Also it’s a bit too mad from the off and took some getting into, and is a bit too light-hearted when a bit more grit and darkness might have aided the movie’s overall impact. Yet once the journey started and stakes kept getting raised I was suitably gripped.
Simply, a single image made me want to see this. A girl’s pretty face but with a transparent neck where a mechanical bone structure and wires were visible within. I love science fiction, but there’s been too many movies that have just been throwaway pop corn fluff with sci-fi wrapping that haven’t really got me thinking about the possibilities of technology and what it could mean for our future. Thankfully this is one such film that really massaged my imagination.
Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) is a coder at a renowned internet company (think: Google) who wins the chance to spend a week at the home of the company’s reclusive CEO and discover just what he’s been working on behind closed doors. Once there he meets Nathan (Oscar Isaac), who soon tells him he will be involved in a series of tests with an artificial intelligence called ‘Ava’.
I loved this premise, a single albeit beautifully high-tech (homes of the future) setting and three characters all very different and complex. Ava, played by the exquisite Alicia Vikander is a revelation – human but subtly artificial, brought to life by not only Alicia’s vulnerably sexy and nuanced performance but also a ground-breaking special effect – she really does look like half girl / half machine with a stunning design with transparent arms, legs and stomach etc. It harks back to I-Robot with a hint of ‘Hal’ out of 2001 A Space Odyssey and even Hayley Joel Osmet’s performance in A.I. I loved every moment she was on screen. Domnhall’s Caleb is equally complex and fascinating, the kid in the candy store but unaware of just what he’s getting himself into … should he find Ava attractive? Should he really befriend her? What will the tests all mean for her eventually? Isaac’s Nathan is less appealing however – a drunken, somewhat clichéd ‘damaged’ genius who clearly is a bit of a bastard, but his presence still fills the movie with an uncertainty, beings as he’s the only one who really knows what’s going on.
I was puzzled by Caleb’s lack of amazement on first seeing Ava … his reaction to such a technological achievement more ‘ok, that’s cool’ – like he sees such like every day. I’d have also liked to learn more about him too, apart from his parents being in a car crash – what made him really tick? Nathan is also a pretty blank canvas. So that leaves Ava, who thankfully doesn’t need a back story – she’s a robot after all, but probably the strongest light in this very different and at time freaky movie. As a directing debut this is a bold and gripping story from Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Dredd) and shows he’s a voice (and visionary) to really take note of … who has probably delivered one of the best true science fiction tales we’ve seen in a long time.
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