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Knowing (2009) Print E-mail
Wednesday, 25 March 2009
ImageThere’s a scientific theory known as Determinism. To put it simply (perhaps too simply), it states that all matter acts according to specific principles that, if we were mathematically advanced enough, we could predict with unerring accuracy from the creation of the universe till the end of it. Most scientists don’t believe the universe is completely deterministic (and Quantum Physics seems to suggest it’s not deterministic at all), but the question is still intriguing. Why do we do the things we do? Is it because we want to, or because of external forces acting on us at all times? What if someone were able to run the calculations required to predict future events, and tried to warn us of impending disaster?

That’s the question asked in Knowing, the new science fiction thriller from director Alex Proyas (Dark City, I Robot). Nicolas Cage stars as John Koestler, a recently widowed MIT astrophysicist trying to care for his young son, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury). Caleb goes to an elementary school that had buried a time capsule fifty years earlier. To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the school, they open the time capsule and give each child a prediction of the future by the first class at the school. While everyone else gets a picture, Caleb gets a sheet of numbers. Chancing upon it late one night, John notices that some of the numbers seem to correspond to dates. Investigating further, he discovers that the sheet lists the dates and death tolls of every major catastrophe in the past fifty years, in sequence, including the tragedy that took his wife. Shocked to the core by this evidence, John tracks down the author’s daughter, Diana (Rose Byrne) and her own daughter, Abby (Lara Robinson), hoping to get more insight into the letter. He also attempts to stop the future events listed on the sheet, including one, dated very soon, that appears to be massive in scope. This simple synopsis probably makes the movie appear to be a cross between The Number 23 and Next. Aside from Nicolas Cage appearing in it, nothing could be further from the truth. In point of fact, Knowing is a truly excellent science fiction film, the kind that makes you ponder and think long after the credits have run their course. Much credit is due to Proyas and his team. They took what surely could have been another generic disaster flick and turned it into something not just palatable, but effective and memorable. The tension in the film is evident right from the beginning, and it never lets up. No, not every scene ratchets the suspense, but there’s always a feeling of unease that doesn’t let go until the end. And visually, the film is a knockout. Shot entirely with digital cameras, the movie has a bold visual style that complements the content. It’s eye grabbing but not distracting.

Don’t run away simply because this has Nicolas Cage. Despite the string of truly awful films the man has been in for the past few years, he still has some chops. He just requires the right director to bring them out (although I must say I am morbidly intrigued by the upcoming Bad Lieutenant remake directed by Werner Herzog; I don’t think Herzog will reign in Cage at all, rather I think he will create a world where Cage’s eccentricities become assets instead of liabilities), and Proyas elicits his best performance since Adaptation. No kidding, he’s really good throughout the picture. There are some wonderful human moments between him and his son, and he drives the plot forward admirably. Rose Byrne is actually a little more chipper here than she normally is. I don’t know why she’s always so dour, but for at least a few scenes in Knowing, she manages something resembling a smile. Once she gets sucked into the plot, she becomes more worried than sad, which at least seems to be outside her usual methods, so thank goodness for that. The child actors don’t detract from the film, and Lara Robinson does a tremendous job playing both Abby and the child version of her grandmother, Lucinda.

I should also mention that for a PG-13 film, Knowing can get pretty brutal. There are two major disasters that feature several people being crushed to death or being lit on fire. I’m truly surprised the film didn’t get an R rating. And the sequences are so well directed, you will jump in your seat. Guaranteed. Beyond that, though, Knowing provides a thought provoking story that is sure to have people debating for years to come. It proves that both Proyas (whose I, Robot was disappointing at best) and Cage still have some fire in them. And it proves that not all big budget special effects flicks require the audience turn their mind off at the door. You’d never know it from the ads, but Knowing is one of the better films released so far in 2009. Go see it.

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