Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Film Review: 'Knowing' – 7.0/10

Film Review: Disaster • Sci-Fi • Drama (2009)
Written by Joé McKen on Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Nicolas Cage sees some pretty disturbing stuff go down as Dr. John Koestler in Alex Proyas' 2009 disaster-thriller Knowing.

What if you could know what was to happen? What if you knew a terrible event was about to unfurl, one that no-one else knew about? Would you do anything you could to try and prevent it, minimize the damage? Or … would you stay out of the way and let inevitability and fate run their course?

These are the sorts of questions raised in Alex Proyas' hair-raising production, Knowing. In this case, they're part of the moral anguish that resides in the head of Dr. John Koestler, an MIT professor of astrophysics who's been having a tough run as of late. His wife died in a freak fire about a year ago, and he's been trying to raise his pained son all alone, eschewing his family and devoting his life to his work, and late-night alcohol benders. (How he manages to pull himself together enough to get to work in the mornings without wanting to kill himself is beyond me.)

In his class, he tells his students that there are two main governing theories about the functioning of the Universe: it's either deterministic, or random. Deterministic (which is what I would personally put my money on) would mean that if someone knew everything about physics and such, they could theoretically predict every single event in past and future, as any event or happening would only be a reaction to a preceding event in a predictable fashion. A random Universe would mean the precise opposite – it's all random, nothing makes sense, events appear out of nowhere and trigger unexpected consequences. When asked by a student as to what he believes in, he says what most would arguably say – 'shit happens'.

Now, his son's school is digging up a time capsule that had been buried at the school's inauguration, containing pictures of what kids back in 1959 imagined the world in 2009 would look like. We get the tons of rockets and space colonies, but when Dr. Koestler's son, Caleb, receives his own picture, he's surprised, perhaps disappointed, to instead receive a paper sheet with rows and rows of seemingly random numbers, from top to bottom. We remember, from the prologue, the strange young girl who had frantically written these numbers out, as though they had been whispered to her by an invisible voice.

But when Dr. Koestler looks at it, a mere glance in a lucky spot on the page leads him to finding a curious coincidence – the exact date, numerically, of 9/11, along with the exact number of deaths. Intrigued, he quickly starts to find other hidden dates in the numbers – and after a few hours, finds himself staring at a 50-year-old prediction of every single major disaster in the last five decades, without a single error. Numbers that didn't seem to 'fit' are soon revealed to be exact geographical coordinates. But that's not even the most troubling part. The worst, is that there are still three 'incomplete' sequences of numbers – disasters that have yet to happen. And now, Koestler knows where, when, and how many would die … unless he could manage to prevent them, somehow.

This is where the plot of Knowing truly takes off at a breathtaking pace into the mysterious realms of the paranormal and the disastrous, with Koestler desperately trying to prevent disasters when he has no idea what will happen or how – only where and when (and how many potential fatalities). The questions raised by the movie – would you stop horrendous events from taking place, or would you let them unfurl unimpeded as to not disturb the intended sequence of fate – are hard-hitting and resonating in those who understand their full power and complexity. They are basically the greatest questions ever asked (other than perhaps 'why are we here?').

There is certainly a lot to be said about this film, but for spoilers' sake I'll have to restrain myself. I can say, however, that this film soon starts to stray from the path of disaster film and science-fiction and plunges into a strange, somewhat uncomfortable world of fantasy that somehow doesn't seem to fit with the previous two-thirds of the story. It's a transition that I suspect is the main cause for the film's sharp distaste from most critics; one that we neither saw coming, nor were quite willing to see happen.

Technically, the film is very decent, with solid special effects (though nothing groundbreaking; I personally found some of the CGI to be a little dated) and very vivid and moving photography that perfectly captures mood and feel. The score, from Marco Beltrami, does its job well without drawing attention to itself, though never quite rising to magnificence.

People seem to either fall in love with his movie (as did Roger Ebert, judging from his glorifying 4/4-star review) or despise it, with little grey area in between. What I found was a great potential that somehow didn't quite fall flat – it was lead in a direction I wasn’t satisfied with. Though I suspect that's just my personal taste at this point.

Being a complex and oftentimes confusing but nonetheless thrilling and intriguing epic awards Alex Proyas' Knowing with 7.0 shiny black rocks out of 10.

Dr. John Koestler: Nicolas Cage • Caleb Koestler: Chandler Canterbury • Diana Wayland: Rose Byrne
Crew & Credits
Director(s): Alex Proyas • Writer(s): Alex Proyas, Stuart Hazeldine, Juliet Snowden • Original Score: Marco Beltrami
General Information
Distributed by: Summit Entertainment • Released: March 20, 2009 • Running Time: 121 mins • Budget: US$50 million • Rated: PG-13


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