Directed and co-written by Gabe Ibáñez and starring Antonio Banderas, the 2014 film Automata takes the ideology behind I Robot and makes it darker; the result of a different sort of evolution. Set in a Dystopian future where mankind has shrunk to just a few million survivors on an inhospitable Earth, the story follows one man’s investigation of an “impossible” crime. With shades of Blade Runner, the film has a protagonist that is not a cop but an insurance investigator, criminals that are not cyborgs but robots who have gone against their protocols and evolved.
Jacq Vaucan (Banderos) is a married man whose wife Rachel (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) is heavily pregnant and an investigator that is fed up with his job and wants to be moved. His work consists of proving that the robots manufactured by ROC cannot be altered or perform against their protocols.
There are two protocols that each robot must adhere to. The first does not allow it to harm any living thing and the second does not allow it to alter or repair itself. A cop named Sean Wallace (Dylan McDermott) shoots and destroys a robot that he claims was repairing itself. The policeman, who was high on drugs at the time of the shooting, swears that he did not imagine the incident; that the machine altered itself right in front of him.
Robert Bold (Robert Forster) tells Vaucan that this is impossible and the investigator starts looking for someone who disabled the second protocol; a clocksmith. Jacq finds one, a Dr. DuPre (Melanie Griffith) but it turns out that she is not modifying the robots and she learns that it has happened “naturally.”
This film is very dark and brooding in its delivery and with its depiction of a future-earth burnt and dried out by solar flares. Automata does a brilliant job showing the fickle nature of mankind. In the backstory, humanity cheer the new “pilgrim” robots that were made to help “push back the desert.” When the machines fail, the same people who cheered them on turn and their praise becomes hate and disgust.
Similar to I Robot, the machines are part of everyday life although in the that film, the cities are clean and full of successful, happy people. In Automata , like Blade Runner, the towns are dirty, full of acid rain, the unemployed, worn-out robots and is segregated from the ghetto, which is “out of bounds” to the city dwellers.
While the message is bleak, for mankind at least, the robots seem to be the future. Banderas acts his little cotton socks off in the film and his performance alone is worth the “price of admission” as they say. Griffith has a small role and while she still has the chops to impress, it is her character’s outcome that is remembered best. Shocking and sudden, it sticks in the mind and fits this future of grim reality.
Kudos to two favorite Brit actors who have worked together before, although they do not share any real screen time here, Tim McInnerny and Andy Nyman. The actors appeared in the 2006 horror film Severance and it was a delight to see them in this film. McInnerny as the long dust coat-wearing killer for ROC and Nyman as the partner of Wallace, the drug addict cop. Both actors can play “Yanks” quite convincingly.
Oh, and Keep an ear out for Javier Bardem as the “blue” robot.
Automata is streaming on Netflix at the moment and is a real 5 out of 5 stars film. This one, as they say, is a keeper and should become a cult favorite if it has not done so already. Watch this one you will be glad you did.