7 out of 10
Release Date: 31st of March 2014
Director: Caradog W. James
Cast: Toby Stephens, Caity Lotz, Denis Lawson, Pooneh Hajimohammadi, John-Paul MacLeod, Helen Griffin and Sam Hazeldine
Writer: Caradog W. James
Trailer: THE MACHINE
TO BE PROOFREAD: Very impressive UK sci-fi that would have benefitted from a less hurried pace. A longer cut of this film would be very welcome as the writer seems to have a lot more to say about artificial intelligence. Stapling some very interesting ideas and twists onto a well worn template this is a lot more than a Brit-remake of 80s Gregory Hines vehicle Eve of Destruction (remember that?) Whilst this lack of detail and characterisation may frustrate many viewers, it compromises by throwing in a fair bit of competent action. A longer film could have had a more balanced pace and the conflicts that come up as to whether the titular Machine is a sentient being could have been explored even more. But to have been explored even to this degree is a great surprise and only stops a very good film becoming a potential cult classic.
Vincent (TOBY STEPHENS – SEVERANCE) works for the MOD developing brain implants for injured soldiers. Over the years his research has expanded to include the creation of android soldiers. His creation known as The Machine (CAITY LOTZ – MAD MEN) is an anomaly because she appears to be sentient and this scares his employers who only need compliant drones. On discovering that he has stumbled upon and created artificial conscience he refuses to shut her down. His bosses have something to say about it. There are other plot strands involving inured soldiers and evolving software, and Vincent’s terminally sick daughter and you have a good mix of emotional stories vying for your attention.
The central plot involving Vincent and The Machine is the most successful. The Machine is child like, yet deadly, but never maliciously so. Unprepared to guide and tutor such a complex machine in the delicacies and acceptable society rules, the relationship between them goes awry pretty swiftly. Confusion compounds easily navigable situations and this child like gullibility is exploited by the big bad Thomson (DENIS LAWSON – PERFECT SENSE) who is the head of the military facility. He manipulates the robot into being a killing machine – whereas Vincent’s research has hardly begun into proving whether or not she is merely a robot suggestive to programming or a free soul. It’s this debate that needs more exploring but it’s still fairly satisfying and intelligently looked at, it’s jet a shame that the film’s action considerations are so pressing. Other plots involving false limb implants for injured soldiers is intriguing but initially confusing. The soldiers eventually regain their lost faculties but at the same time lose the power of speech. However, they still can communicate with each other via a strange new voice. Are they planning a revolution?
The Machine is a rare sci-fi that asks the right questions and attempts to answer some of them in passing. SPOILER: The last sci-fi to address the issues of artificial intelligence (albeit via cloning) was Moon. END SPOILER. May there be many more films that make you think. We’ve been here before with Blade Runner and the writer/director Caradog W. James is clearly a fan. even the soundtrack pulses and burbles the same the patters famous Vangelis score does. It looks good too, the tech is convincing and the story and script is given colour by a very game cast. Denis Lawson probably struggles the most with a thin-role as the villain of the piece but it’s almost churlish to single him out when there’s so much other good stuff happening.
7 out of 10 – A very impressive low-budget debut sci-fi. It’s a shame it’s cinema release was so limited because this film could have gained a serious following. Good to see Toby Stephens back to his best in an interesting and challenging role after years of treading the boards of the West End theatres. Recommended – yet I still hanker for a long cut!
See review below by Matt Usher aka Joe Pesci II
WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT ACTOR IN BEFORE?
- Toby Stephens: 13 Hours – The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Black Sails (TV), Believe, All Things To All Men, Severance, The Ballad of Mangal Pandey, James Bond- Die Another Day, Possession (2002), Space Cowboys, Onegin, Photographing Fairies, Twelfth Night (1996)
- Caity Lotz: 400 Days, The Pact 2, Mad Men (TV), Arrow (TV), Battle of the Year, The Pact
- Denis Lawson: New Tricks (TV), The Wee Man, Broken (2013), Perfect Sense, Holby City (TV), Kit Curran (TV), Star Wars VI – Return Of The Jedi, Local Hero, Star Wars V – The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars IV – A New Hope
- John-Paul MacLeod: The Gospel Of Us
- Helen Griffin: Under Milk Wood (2015), Risen (2010)
- Sam Hazeldine: The Mechanic 2, Grimsby, Still, ’71, The Monuments Men, Peaky Blinders (TV), Dead Mine, The Raven, Don’t Let Him In, Weekender