The Machine

**

Reviewed by: Neil Mitchell

"What James has tried to do is film a Hollywood Blockbuster on an independent British budget, and it shows."

After helming the 2006 comedy Little White Lies, Welsh director/writer and producer Caradog James returns with his second, very different, feature length effort, The Machine. Set in a near future where an economically devastated Britain has been plunged into a new Cold War, with a dominant China the enemy, The Machine sits squarely in the realm of dystopian science fiction.

This low-budget tale unfolds within the confines of an MoD compound where cybernetics whizz Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens) dabbles, Frankenstein-like, with artificial intelligence, brain implants and wounded soldiers. Tormented by an incident in which a modified soldier went on a murderous rampage, and by his dying daughter’s illness-ravaged life, McCarthy is intent on helping the sick and injured . Altruistic though McCarthy’s intentions may be, the facilities head honcho, Thomson (Denis Lawson), is interested only in seeing the development of a highly sophisticated weapon - an android super soldier. When newly employed researcher Ava (Caity Lotz) is (conveniently) critically injured, Thomson is presented with the opportunity to coax McCarthy into creating such a weapon, and ‘The Machine’ is born/reborn.

Copy picture

Riffing on themes seen in several movies, such as Robocop, [fim]Blade Runner[/film], Universal Soldier and Mary Shelley’s Gothic classic, The Machine is also partly a love story as McCarthy forms a strong emotional bond with Ava/The Machine, becoming resistant to Thomson’s military driven plans for the human/artificial intelligence hybrid. Ideas about humanity, self-determinism, exploitation and man vs machine run through a narrative that flits between (non) human drama, what if? scenarios and action movie traits. What James has tried to do is film a Hollywood Blockbuster on an independent British budget, and it shows.

As a lover of science fiction and British cinema I’m always keen to see our homegrown genre offerings, but I found The Machine wanting on almost every level. The film looks cheap, the ideas are half-baked and only superficially addressed and the performances range from overly earnest (Stephens) via bored (Lawson) to wooden (Lotz). I don’t know much about Lotz, but a lead actor she ain’t, though to give her some credit she does radiate a lithe, striking physical gracefulness in her portrayal of the titular creation.

I fully appreciate that James worked on a tight budget and I can usually overlook noticeable budgetary limitations if the material is strong enough to carry a film through to its resolution. Unfortunately it isn’t, as what’s on offer story wise is neither original nor inventive enough to counteract the evident financial deficiencies.

James’ self-penned effort looks and feels like one of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror episodes strung out to feature length, accompanied by a hugely irritating sub-Eighties synth score. A narrative such as this either needs a huge budget to fully convince of the environment in which it exists or a stronger lead pairing armed with tighter dialogue to raise it up. Though The Machine is mildly entertaining and has garnered some positive notices, I can’t see it as anything other than derivative and conventional.

Reviewed on: 12 Mar 2014
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A cybernetics expert tries to create an android super-soldier.
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