It's been quite a while since Alex Proyas was at the helm of a film, the last being I, Robot back in 2004 where he adapted Isaac Asimov's science fiction classic of the same name. He continues to dwell in the sci-fi realm again with Knowing, with leading man Nicolas Cage plucked from his National Treasure roots because his character here, MIT professor John Koestler, follows in the tradition of running around everywhere in search for answers and the truth.
A widower, John's world consists of his estranged parents, sister Grace (Nadia Townsend) who pops by his home every now and then to check up on him, and his son Caoeb (Chandler Canterbury), and if this was a film other than sci-fi, you would've suspected that there's some incestuous relationship between John and Grace being suggested at, which I thought Proyas had failed in toning the downright awkward looks they are passing at each other.
But what Proyas succeeded, was the crafting of great atmosphere in keeping you guessing along with the characters, building up tension when necessary, but being succinctly to the point without dragging it out when it served no more purpose. It starts in the 50s where a time capsule is being assembled and the students are tasked to draw a picture each of what they perceive as the future. A girl who has been acting strangely had listed down a whole page of seemingly random numbers, which her teacher abruptly took from her to be sealed into the capsule.
Fast forward to today, and it's preordained that Caleb would be the recipient of that strange sheet of numbers, which he brings home and John begins to decipher it while high on alcohol, only to discover that there's a pattern to those randomness, and so begins the quest in search for the truth, hunting down that little girl's offspring Diana (Rose Byrne) in between running from a handful of beings who seem to only want to communicate with children.
There's this very strong theme running through the movie about randomness versus decisiveness, with one camp believing that everything's an independent development from one another, rather than a sequence already determined and laid out. It's like destiny, whether one has the option and choice to change it, or just perceived to have the ability to do so without any to begin with. When the numbers finally revealed themselves to mean something, could anything be done to prevent some of them from happening, leading to the ultimate event that seemed like a page out of the Book of Revelations. It too served as a cautionary environmental warning, though only fleetingly, in telling us how important the ozone layer is to our world, without which we would find ourselves in some really deep trouble.
I suppose Proyas continues to be bitten by the special effects bug, given some groundbreaking CGI some many years back, which continue to be dabbled in and employed for this film, accentuating three key action sequences that would make any disaster movie feel envious. I've always been in awe at Final Destination's airplane disaster and that from Kairo/Pulse, but the catastrophe here upped the ante for the next film to follow suit, given a perfect continuous single take that deserves a second viewing. And the disasters shown here, no doubt only possible through CGI, puts one in the driver's seat and gives you a first person's perspective in how one would bear witness to such events, should one be there and then at the site. Nothing less than jaw dropping, I tell you, as it doesn't flinch from its intended violence, nor gratuitously glorifying such moment.
I don't understand how some can brand the last third of the film ridiculous when it's actually quite powerful. So do not tread further if you're not willing to wade around in Spoilers. I felt it was a great mash up of science fiction in some religious, biblical proportions. It's been said the next destruction of the Earth would be by Fire, given that Water had happened during Noah's time. And sci-fi dictates that we're not alone, and so if there are others out there in space clued in to our catastrophe, I guess it'll make sense if some other advanced civilizations decide to visit us ala Klaatu, and to take some action to prevent our extinction. Here, we see how slices of life get jettisoned to safer pastures, only to return to Earth when safe to do so, starting from the planting of an Adam and an Eve. It's a reverse Sunshine moment, and a cursory view of how any apocalypse would bring about the worst in Man upon any mass panic announcement.
It's been a while since we've seen a thinking man version of an action flick such as Deep Impact, and Knowing firmly rests with that film in being one amongst those that socks it right into your emotional core. Science fiction fans may be apprehensive after Hollywood's last big budgeted flick with The Day The Earth Stood Still, but Knowing comes definitely recommended and surpasses the former in almost every aspect.