For a re­view of “Mor­gan,”

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It wouldn’t be fair to com- pare fa­ther and son, but Ri­d­ley Scott’s prog­eny, Luke Scott, takes on some sim­i­lar themes to his fa­ther’s work in his fea­ture di­rec­to­rial de­but, “Mor­gan.”

In a story that con­tem­plates the emo­tional bound­aries and con­se­quences of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, Seth W. Owen’s script landed on the 2014 Black List of Best Un­pro­duced Screen­plays, and in Scott, “Mor­gan” finds an ap­pro­pri­ate mar­riage be­tween ma­te­rial, film­maker, and yes, fam­ily legacy.

While Deckard was com­pelled by the state to hunt for repli­cants in Ri­d­ley Scott’s “Blade Run­ner,” in “Mor­gan,” ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence is a pri­va­tized af­fair. Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), a cor­po­rate fixer/trou­bleshooter, is dis­patched to a re­mote wooded lab fa­cil­ity to check on the sta­tus of one of her com­pany’s as­sets — a young girl known as Mor­gan (Anya Tay­lor-Joy) to her ad-hoc fam­ily of sci­en­tist care­tak­ers.

In this it­er­a­tion of ex­per­i­men­tal ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, the fo­cus is on de­vel­op­ing emo­tion, and in this sum­mer camp-like bub­ble, the sci­en­tists have bonded with the young girl of tremen­dous, nearly psy­chic abil­ity, who is nearly fully grown at age 5. Na­ture walks and birth­day par­ties are part of the rou­tine — un­til Mor­gan loses her tem­per with Kathy (Jen­nifer Ja­son Leigh) and gouges her eye out. Lee’s job is to as­sess “it,” and de­cide on a course of ac­tion.

Her task is com­pli­cated by the close re­la­tion­ships be­tween Mor­gan and the sci­en­tists — team leader Dr. Cheng (Michelle Yeoh), freespir­ited be­hav­ior­ist Amy (Rose Leslie), an ide­al­is­tic ge­neti­cist (Toby Jones), their fas­tid­i­ous co­or­di­na­tor Ted (Michael Yare) and a cou­ple of lov­ing doc­tors, Dar­ren (Chris Sul­li­van) and Brenda (Vinette Robin­son). Some are un­will­ing to ter­mi­nate her, de­spite the in­creas­ing lev­els of vi­o­lence when pro­voked. With dis­sent among the ranks, and mur­der­ous chaos break­ing out, only Lee can take con­trol of the sit­u­a­tion.

“This is what I do,” she tells nu­tri­tion­ist Skip (Boyd Hol­brook), shoul­der­ing a shot­gun and tak­ing off af­ter a Mor­gan gone rogue.

“Mor­gan” takes its place in the canon of awe­some fe­male-driven sci-fi such as “Alien” or “T2.” Nei­ther Lee nor Mor­gan are clearly hero­ine or vil­lain — Lee’s only at­tempt­ing to do her job and pre­serve the as­set, while Mor­gan, with a clearly de­vel­oped sense of self­hood, is also at­tempt­ing to pre­serve the as­set, her­self. The two tan­gle with a thud­ding, ef­fi­cient vi­o­lence, land­ing blows and draw­ing blood with nary a flinch. It’s a rather fas­ci­nat­ing take on the pos­si­bil­i­ties and lim­its of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and ar­ti­fi­cial emo­tion, and brings up ques­tions about the rights and au­ton­omy of these crea­tures sim­i­lar to the ones ex­plored re­cently in “Ex Machina.”

The fail­ure of “Mor­gan” is in its lack of re­straint. The first half of the film is as tightly con­trolled as the lab fa­cil­ity, with small mo­ments of fore­shad­ow­ing planted ex­pertly, if ob­vi­ously. The sec­ond half de­scends into a vi­o­lent blood­bath, and the twists in the story that lie just be­low the sur­face wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered are spo­ken aloud, taken from the­ory to fact. But it’s far more fun when just a the­ory. Over­ex­pla­na­tion takes a film from an eerie think piece to a ba­nal sci-fi thriller; it robs you of the chance to trade post-film hy­pothe­ses. That kind of am­bi­gu­ity makes “Blade Run­ner” a clas­sic; the lack of am­bi­gu­ity means “Mor­gan” strays into a runof-the-mill genre ter­ri­tory, de­spite its deeper ideas.

“Mor­gan,” a 20th Cen­tury Fox re­lease, is rated R for bru­tal vi­o­lence and some lan­guage. Run­ning time: 92 min­utes.

‘The Light Be­tween Oceans’

With “Blue Valen­tine” and “The Place Be­yond the Pines,” film­maker Derek Cian­france has proved that he has a knack for both in­ti­mate ro­man­tic fa­bles and sweep­ing fam­ily epics that span decades. In his adap­ta­tion of M.L. St­ed­man’s 2012 de­but novel “The Light Be­tween Oceans,” Cian­france makes a film that is both epic and in­ti­mate, a love story in­ter­twined with tragedy. In stars Ali­cia Vikan­der and Michael Fass­ben­der, he finds per­form­ers who man­age to deftly in­habit the char­ac­ters, and just keep it from tip­ping over into Ni­cholas Sparks-style soapy melo­drama.

“The Light Be­tween Oceans” boasts fine per­for­mances and exquisite film­mak­ing in the cin­e­matog­ra­phy, pro­duc­tion, sound and cos­tume de­sign, and it’s al­most enough to shake off the clingy soapy residue that comes with the ro­man­tic drama ter­ri­tory. It’s 1918 Aus­tralia, and Tom Sher­bourne (Fass­ben­der) a vet­eran of the Great War, is seek­ing some soli­tude in or­der to process his ex­pe­ri­ence. He takes a post as a light­house keeper on Janus Is­land, and en route to his new home, catches the eye of a young lo­cal woman, Is­abel (Vikan­der). Af­ter a pic­nic and some let­ter-writ­ing, the two are mar­ried and start a life for two iso­lated on Janus.

Is­abel takes to the stormy is­land (the crash­ing waves and wind are a ubiq­ui­tous pres­ence in the film), with their sim­ple, just-the-two-of-us ru­ral life­style. But the iso­la­tion, as well as a few set­backs in start­ing their fam­ily lead her down a dark path of de­pres­sion.

There’s a moral co­nun­drum that arises in “The Light Be­tween Oceans” where “sav­ing a life” means some­thing dif­fer­ent from “do­ing the right thing.” Tom, an up­stand­ing man, is forced to make that dis­tinc­tion when the cou­ple res­cue a baby girl from a stranded dinghy. Do­ing the right thing would mean re­port­ing the in­ci­dent and call­ing the au­thor­i­ties. Sav­ing a life means al­low­ing his wife to care for and keep the baby as her own. While they en­joy do­mes­tic bliss on their is­land, it’s an un­ten­able sit­u­a­tion in the tight-knit com­mu­nity of their small vil­lage.

Fass­ben­der plays Tom as a man whose emo­tions roil be­low a quiet sur­face. He’s clearly shaken to the core and wracked with guilt over his ex­pe­ri­ences in the war, and his love with Is­abel light­ens his emo­tional bur­den for a time. When he shoul­ders her hap­pi­ness along with a dose of guilt over the lies they’ve had to tell to pre­serve their fam­ily unit, it’s more than he can bear.

Vikan­der’s Is­abel is the op­po­site of Tom, forth­right, im­pul­sive and openly emo­tional, col­laps­ing into full body tantrums and melt­downs when things don’t go the way she hopes they will. She brings the pas­sion and fire to their re­la­tion­ship, while he brings the sta­bil­ity and strength. Those op­pos­ing styles don’t al­ways work out, as ev­i­denced by the tan­gle they find them­selves in when they tried to save a life or two.

“The Light Be­tween Oceans” re­mains com­pelling through­out its two-hour plus run time, but for a melo­drama that walks and talks like a weepy, it has a strangely un­emo­tional re­served­ness. Per­haps it’s Fass­ben­der’s metic­u­lously re­strained per­for­mance, or the film­mak­ing, which is as care­fully hand­made and ex­e­cuted as an heir­loom piece. It ends up more of a study in moral and eth­i­cal de­ci­sion mak­ing, than as an emo­tional cathar­sis or re­lease, but it’s a wor­thy jour­ney nonethe­less.

“The Light Be­tween Oceans,” a Dream­works II re­lease, is rated PG-13 for the­matic ma­te­rial and some sex­ual con­tent. Run­ning time: 132 min­utes.


Ali­cia Vikan­der and Michael Fass­ben­der star in “The Light Be­tween Oceans.”

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