Movie Review: Gary Oldman is HAL-9000 in ‘Tau’
If you enjoyed 2001: A Space Odyssey but felt bad for HAL-9000 as Dave plots against him, you might enjoy Tau, a laughable new thriller in which Gary Oldman, fresh off winning an Oscar as Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour, tackles his most challenging role yet: as a voice of a red dot surround by a triangle on the wall.
Oldman’s titular Tau resides in the high-tech home of mad scientist Alex (Ed Skrein), who performs research for his mega-corporation by abducting people from their homes, implanting a chip inside their brain, and forcing them to complete puzzles. Hey, beats paying someone $50 to participate in a clinical trial.
Alex’s latest victim is the resourceful street thief Julia (Maika Monroe), who wanders around some nondescript neon-lit backdrops during the film’s brief opening scenes to relay the information that this is indeed the future, and the high-tech A.I. shenanigans we are about to witness are totally plausible.
Monroe’s Julia is abducted from her apartment and wakes up in locked in a cell with a chip in her brain. Early scenes in Tau resemble something from the Saw or Cube series as she tries to puzzle her way out of the situation, but soon she sets off an alarm and a giant killer robot is hot on her tail.
The film switches gears with the introduction of Oldman’s Tau, the A.I. behind the killer robot as well as an army of nanobots used to clean up after the mad scientist. When Alex goes to work, Tau becomes Julia’s babysitter and forces him to complete those vital brainteasers needed for the big experiment whose deadline is just a week away.
And Julia realizes that she isn’t going to be able to get out on her own: she’ll have to befriend the supercomputer and get Tau to help her out. It won’t be easy, but Julia knows that Tau enjoys his classical music, and doesn’t like getting punished by the evil Dr. Alex, who pushes a button on a remote control to “erase his code” when Tau misbehaves.
If this all sounds somewhat silly, it plays out far worse. I like to imagine Oldman recording his lines alone in a studio, and trying to keep a straight face with dialogue like “what is an outside?” and “so cavemen don’t eat dinosaurs?”
Yes, this supercomputer has achieved sentience but appears to be illiterate: he can take books off the shelf and turn the pages with his nanobots, but he needs Julia to read them to him like a three-year-old child. If the filmmakers were going for something like 2001 or Demon Seed, they approach it with all the care taken to the Chunk/Sloth storyline in The Goonies.
“No!” screams Tau, “tell me more about Bedřich Smetana’s The Devil’s Wall!” (Bonus points to Oldman for pronunciation.)
“Now now, Tau,” Monroe’s captive replies, “we have to finish for today. We’ll read some more tomorrow.”
As the ridiculous, semi-romantic relationship between Julia and the supercomputer develops, Tau doesn’t exactly become as thoughtful as Ex Machina or Her, movies which it fleetingly resembles.
But it does become highly entertaining. Never boring for a minute and more and more absurd with each new development, Tau is a head-scratching delight that will delight fans of bad movies, and it truly must be seen to be believed.
Tau marks the directorial debut of Federico D'Alessandro, who worked in the art department in blockbusters like Doctor Strange and Ant-Man. It’s surprising, then, that the CGI throughout the film is as unconvincing as it is. The killer robot Aries, in particular, is cartoonish in design and poorly integrated with his surroundings.