Tuesday, March 24, 2009

“Knowing”: Hurry To See This Movie!

Nicholas Cage

PG-13, 130 min.

Directed by Alex Proyas, Nicholas Cage stars in "Knowing", an ambitious, high-budget drama/mystery/thriller movie that starts small and ends huge. The movie begins in 1959, in a wonderful, large classroom taught by Miss Taylor (Danielle Carter) in Dawes Elementary School situated in Lexington, Massachusetts. A time capsule is planted ceremonially and fifty years later in 2009, it’s taken from the ground, again with Miss Taylor (this time played by Alethea McGrath) nearby, cutting a ribbon and giving out envelopes. After that, everything that happens appears random, until it becomes clear that many of these odd events are connected and not random at all.

Cage plays John Koestler, an MIT astrophysics professor, widow and caring father, who in 2009 is able to put together a puzzle written onto a paper from the time capsule and, despite some initial skepticism, realizes that certain tragic events are about to happen. He gradually discovers exactly when they will happen and GPS coordinates show exact locations. He informs his skeptical colleague, his father, his son Caleb, played perfectly and sensitively by Chandler Canterbury, and Diana Wayland. Wayland, whose mother predicts the future events discovered by Koestler, is played by Rose Byrne with sensitivity, compassion and intelligence and becomes Koestler's new interest.

Yes, the trailer will tell you this, but the movie somehow becomes ever more broadly compelling and increasingly impressive. Officially all set in America, it’s filmed in many locations, with vistas and views, a Victorian home and a buckyball-shaped astrophysics building, an American subway and highway, New York City, Australia for the school scene and most of the alien scenes. There is drama and excitement created with special effects that get more spectacular until the end of the film.

It’s quite an exciting action thriller and enjoyable, despite many realistic crash scenes. There’s a fiery plane crash at close range, a long subway crash scene and vehicle crashes all filmed just feet away, giving the audience the feeling of being there. Mystery and suspense build with music, shadows, squeaks, drafty whistles, alien appearances and imaginings. The alien space-ship scene is as impressive as the ‘we’re here’ movie, E.T. Then there’s the final horrifying destruction scene.

Expensive, complicated, fast-moving special effects are balanced with tender, emotional moments. John Koestler (Cage) works hard to raise his son and to have good relationships. A convincing multi-generational dimension complements the cleverly-wrought fifty-year span of the movie. Koestler's findings have shocked him to his core, and his character winds up eventually in an emotional collapse caused by tragic events in this race-against-time schedule. He ultimately rushes to reach his father's house in Manhattan before the shocking conclusion.

“Knowing” is an instant classic, and an amalgamation of many old movies. While it's shocking for those living near New York City, it’s sure to join the list of “Best Destruction Movies of New York City”, like A.I.--Artificial Intelligence, Independence Day, Deep Impact and The Day after Tomorrow. Of course, this time it’s the entire planet that gets hit by a solar storm, and there’s nowhere to hide.

Intelligence is an important factor in “Knowing”, but this plot tells us that ultimately, it won’t save all of us. (It's a movie, so we just happily and temporarily suspend our disbelief reminded, as Lord Keynes has said, that "in the long run, we're all dead"). The idea is that intelligence might have saved John Koestler (Cage), if only he had been open to relationships with aliens. Instead the children, Caleb and Abby, become young Adam and Eve figures, are saved by the aliens (who have been speaking inside their heads) to continue life on a new planet. Young Lara Robinson plays both Lucinda Embry (author of the 1959 paper) and her granddaughter, Abby Wayland, with quiet authority.

Why are the aliens blond and attractively human-like rather than, say, purple monsters? (Maybe they were meant to look credible?). While these silent predators look piercingly intelligent, they're also a bit extravagant as they keep unexpectedly appearing, then mysteriously disappearing, building drama accompanied by ominous music and awesome special effects.

How were these special effects created? The crash scenes, the alien and spaceship scenes, and the Manhattan destruction scenes all took huge budgets and incredible computer wizardry.

"Knowing" is well worth watching, highly recommended for escapism at its finest. As far-fetched as its story sounds, the movie works as enjoyable entertainment, whether or not it convinces us that intelligence won't save us from the greater forces of nature, that nature is stronger than man (except for the two children, and a few other lucky ones). Wonder if Part Two is around the corner, about the children growing up?

It's such an ambitious movie that it deserves to win Academy Awards for Best Special Effects, Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Actor.

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