A time capsule buried at an elementary school in Massachusetts in 1959 to mark its official opening is opened 50 years later; the drawings by the school children inside are handed out to the new kids, and young Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) gets to take one home that isn't a drawing, but a sheet of seemingly random numbers. His widowed astrophysicist father, Professor John Koestler (Nicolas Cage), recognizes a pattern of chilling historical relevance, with profound and immediate significance, but not even his friendly colleague Phil (Ben Mendelsohn) take him seriously. When Caleb mentions he hears whispers in his head and John strings clues together, his fears grow and the calamity he sees predicted seems only moments away.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Knowing is a biblical epic by any measure, if not by label, and a work of deep significance on many levels, ranging from a longing for divine intervention in this self-destructive world, to mind stretching sci-fi. Alex Proyas has taken what began as a fairly basic sci-fi concept built on the idea of a 50 year time capsule, to heights of psychological and visceral bravado. But I don't want to go into too many details because this film has to be discovered for its full impact to be thoroughly absorbed.
At first, we seem to be in standard Hollywood sci-fi or psychological mystery territory - and even that uncertainty engages us. The school's 50 year time capsule is opened, but we have already been unsettled by the behaviour of the little girl who, instead of a drawing to put into it, has almost obsessively scribbled out a sheet of numbers. Gibberish or code? If code, of what? Why? Who? Questions remain building blocks of tension as the story crunches into second gear and all the little touches of extra-ordinary begin to amass into a tsunami of mysteries.
Nicolas Cage is perhaps the best equipped star to handle such roles, where his academic prowess is coupled to a credible leading action man character who is nonetheless accessible to us all. He and young Chandler Canterbury make a terrific father and son team, and the film relies for much of its emotional punch on this equation. There are paper thin moments of exposition in the first act, and a sense of some manufacturing of plot elements to make it work, but once the filmmaker's vision is fully engaged, it is enthralling. The wrath of the universe is the film's trump card and its editorial motivation - shocking in its enormity. And that's despite the ever tumbling and conflicting ideas that populate the film's deeper recesses.
But what makes the film really special - and the special effects (thanks Sydney's Animal Logic) are very special indeed - is how Proyas turns this piece of mainstream entertainment into a haunting and spiritual cascade of fireworks. The symbolism is beautifully crafted in the SFX lab, but it's the crafting inside Proyas' head that is so impressive. The mysterious whisperers are borderline threatening yet we don't fear them and they do nothing violent. Their transformation into their real personas is like an epiphany. The resolution of the film is a resurrection. The sacrificed son is actually a redeemer ... and so it goes. Even the numbers are inherently linked to religious prophesy.
Knowing, a word so heavy with resonance refers us back to the Garden of Eden and the tree of knowledge - and all that goes with it. Proyas gives us a glimpse of it .... It's thrilling to see populist cinema tackle the most pertinent issues of mankind in such strident, striking and spectacular fashion.
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Limited Edition Blu-ray, special features (on DVD) include a Director's Audio Commentary.
Review by Louise Keller:
You've got to hand it to Nicolas Cage. For any film in which the world needs to be saved, a filmmaker would be hard pressed to go beyond this charismatic actor, whose onscreen intensity and emotional sincerity are palpable. Alex Proyas' high concept mystery thriller asks whether life has a purpose or whether it is just a series of coincidences: randomness or determinism. Out of the classroom, Cage's astrophysics professor John Koestler believes 'Shit just happens'. Plenty happens during the 122 minutes of Knowing, and while not all of it may bear up to magnifying glass scrutiny, the film stands up as a solid escapist cinematic experience enhanced by its chilling symbolism, filled with tension and thrills, fabulous special effects and a monumentally big scale ending.
Proyas' skilled filmmaking techniques are all on display here, as many questions are raised. Who are the mysterious whispering men in black? Why is the temperature climbing so high? What is the significance of the black stone? Can the list of numbers have a meaningful relevance on the chart of earthly disasters? Proyas makes us care about all these things, and Cage makes us believe anything he wants. He can play a tortured character in his sleep, and here his John is a tortured sole parent, grieving the loss of his beloved wife and spends his waking hours paranoid about the wellbeing of his only son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury). The thrust of the storyline embraces the strong bond between father and son, although a subplot of the alienation between John and his own preacher father is thrown in as further endorsement.
Rose Byrne has an appealing presence as Diana Wayland, the grown up daughter of Lucinda, the child-psychic we meet briefly 50 years earlier in the film's opening scenes. Youngsters Chandler Canterbury and Lara Robinson (who plays the double roles of Abby and Lucinda) both have a natural presence and their uncluttered performances help keep the film grounded. Good to see Ben Mendelsohn on screen, although I wished he had more to do. I love Marco Beltrami's music, but whoever was responsible for the music mix is obviously not aware that Less can be More in circumstances when tension needs to be built to the highest pitch. Proyas has not held back when it comes to his story resolution: a big ending deserves big effects, and true to style, awesome visual effects (courtesy Animal Logic) swallow us up in the last few scenes, in keeping with Proyas' vision. Grab a jumbo bucket of popcorn and be in the know.
Published July 30, 2009
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KNOWING: DVD (M)
CAST: Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Lara Robinson, Ben Mendelsohn, Chandler Canterbury, Jake Bradley, Nadia Townsend
PRODUCER: Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Alex Proyas, Steve Tisch
DIRECTOR: Alex Proyas
SCRIPT: Ryne Pearson, Juliet Snowden, Stiles White, Stuart Hazeldine (book by Pearson)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Simon Duggan
EDITOR: Richard Learoyd
MUSIC: Marco Beltrami
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Steven Jones-Evans
RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 26, 2009
SPECIAL FEATURES: DVD: Director's Audio Commentary; Standard Blu-ray: Audio commentary, the making of a futuristic thriller, visions of the apocalypse; Limited Edition blu-ray: all features plus steelbook packaging.
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
DVD RELEASE: July 29, 2009