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Monday, April 06, 2009

Movie Review: Knowing

You need to know this.



In my book, any movie with an aliens-arrive-on-Earth or end-of-the-world theme is worth the admission price. Regardless of the differences in creative interpretations, movies exercising any of the aforesaid themes pretty much guarantee a concoction of intriguing plotlines and explosive action with mostly impressive special effects. Knowing is the newest chief yet to cook us a tall tale about aliens and humanity being wiped out. After watching last year’s similarly-themed, yet disappointingly disastrous The Day the Earth Stood Still raze everyone’s attention to the ground, I have to admit that I was a tad sceptical about Knowing. But as I discovered, Knowing is a successful blend of elements from both themes as much as it is of a nastily intensifying and engaging production.

It is 1959 and students from an elementary school are asked to illustrate their predictions for the future. Rather unsurprisingly, objects like robots and flying cars are conjured up within the imaginative young minds of these children. Creepy little girl Lucinda Embry (Lara Robinson) thinks otherwise and goes on to agitatedly press a series of seemingly random numbers on her piece of paper.

The movie cuts forward to the present day, fifty years after the drawings are reposed in a time capsule and buried. We pick up with single parent John Koestler (Nicholas Cage) and his son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), the later of who studies at the same elementary school Lucinda attended. As promised fifty years ago, the time capsule is unearthed and each student receives a drawing. Caleb is given Lucinda’s paper, setting up a plot point where John, a college professor specializing in astrophysics, becomes increasingly intrigued by the outwardly unconnected numbers on Lucinda’s paper. After an accidental discovery that one of the lines of numbers accurately represents 9/11 and its death toll, John immerses himself in more thorough research and comes to the conclusion that the other numbers on the paper are actually representations of various disasters which have occurred. 3 lines of numbers remain, and with the help of Lucinda’s daughter Diana Wayland (Rose Byrne) and granddaughter Abby (Lara Robinson again), both of whom John managed to track down, he must now find a way to prevent these supposedly predetermined catastrophes from happening – while also protecting Caleb from some eerie black-suited men who are seemingly stalking his son.

Alex Proyas’s prior directorial effort may have been the 5 years old I, Robot, but fortunately, his skills haven’t skidded off even by an inch. I enjoyed I, Robot tremendously and am certainly glad that the expertise shown in I Robot’s action scenes and plot turns have been carried over. If anything, Knowing is an impressive entry to the film library and is the perfect film to mark the return of Alex.

How am I supposed to know what these numbers are?

Alex’s penchant for suspense definitely shows in Knowing. Like any good movie should, Knowing tries not to give away too much from the start so that there’s a consistent layer of mystery and captivation. The most unique thing about Knowing is how it manages to tease audiences with subtle revelations ever so slightly every now and then hide it just as you finally decipher the cue. Quite intelligently, the smattering of clues administered throughout the duration of the film tend to inch you towards the side of certainty – meaning you are sure that what you have guessed based on the clue provided is what the movie is driving at – but then, your guess is almost always brutally deconstructed by the next clue. In other words, there is this constant balance between an ‘Oh, yes, I know what this movie is telling me’ ideology and an ‘Oh, wait, no, this isn’t what the movie is about’ ideology which never ceases to keep audiences at the edge of their seats for the next clue. And when all the ribbons which hold the box with the plot together gets unattached in a massive revelation during the last 15 minutes, it’s already too late for the audiences to realize that they have been rather cleverly manipulated into thinking otherwise all these while. This makes for a truly suspenseful film which takes much delight at plunging you into further suspense in the midst of an already intensely suspenseful moment. Knowing does this with a nasty and brutal whistle, butchering the minds of its audiences at every chance it has got. It’s like a magician revealing the beak of a parrot from his hat at one instance, the claw of a crow at the next instance, and the tip of a pigeon’s wings at another instance, but when the magician finally pulls out his pet from his hat, it’s neither a parrot nor a crow, or a pigeon, but a rabbit.

Serving as great accompaniments to the plot are the set pieces. Granted, the numbers on the paper are excuses for the movie to be able to provide its very own creative interpretations on how some fatal disasters could turn out, but that’s fine by me. (Mild spoilers) If you have watched the trailers, you would already have known that there would be an aircraft and train accident in Knowing. These set pieces are especially spectacular to watch, with visuals and effects that are aesthetically arresting. My favorite would have to be the aircraft crash. Tilted at a portentous angle, the airliner rams through electrical lines and crashes into a mushroom of flames on a patch of land adjacent to a busy expressway. As John helplessly rushes in to attempt to save the victims, portions of the airliner gets blasted out into the sky like rockets and the furiously expanding flames puff themselves up and engulf survivors, snatching them away from any hope they might have left. Images of this kind stay in the audiences’ minds long after the movie has ended, providing a topic for discussion among people who have watched the film before. Quite clearly, this is one of the demonstrations of how memorable Knowing is.

Final comments
Now, I’d have to begin with this overused line: Knowing is one of the best movies I have seen. But it’s true. Like any ‘one of the best movies’, Knowing goes about showing its stuffs to its audiences a little differently. When all the elaborate paragraphs are cut down, it all boils down to this sentence: This is the most intelligently suspenseful film I have seen yet, and its set pieces are nothing short of memorable. Now, you know you need to watch Knowing, don’t you?


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