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Sunday, 29 March 2009

Movie Review - Knowing - Major Spoliers


'Knowing' is a movie I've been looking forward to for some time now. I'm a huge fan of disaster movies, supernatural thrillers and obviously sci-fi and this newest outing had a trailer that really grabbed my attention with its '50 year old piece of paper warns screwed up guy of every major disaster in history premise'.

***WARNING: MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS. DO NOT READ ON IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THIS MOVIE AND DON'T WANT TO KNOW THE PLOT OR ENDING.***

Here's the whole plot rundown:
The movie starts in 1959 with a little girl, Lucinda Embry, a fish out of water, that kid in class that everyone thinks is weird and avoids, who seems to be hearing whispering voices in her head. When a time capsule is arranged to celebrate the opening of her school Lucinda and her classmates are asked to draw a picture of what they think their future will be like 50 years on to be placed in the capsule which will then be buried in the school grounds.
Instead of drawing spaceships and futuristic visions of 2009 Lucinda frantically writes down a mass of numbers with no discernible flow or sequence but doesn't get to finish what she's writing before her teacher whisks it away from her. This paper is added to the capsule's contents.
During the capsule burial ceremony Lucinda disappears and is later found in the gym basement scratching the last few digits of her unfinished list into a door with her bleeding fingernails, seemingly in a mindless trance.

Flash forward to 2009 and Josh Koestler (Nicholas Cage) is a grieving widower and single father, trying to keep his life together as a astrophysics teacher and parent while battling depression, alcoholism and a young growing son going through a change.
When the 50 year old time capsule is finally opened each child from the school gets an envelope to open which contains one of the pictures drawn by the kids from 1959. Josh's son Caleb, who now attends this school, receives Lucinda's numbered list and while doing so is viewed secretly by a strange white haired figure in the distance.
During one of Cage's binging sessions that night he manages to come across this list again and figures out that these numbers actually relate to dates and the number of people killed (and later GPS co-ordinates to each event) to every major disaster for the last 50 years (including the event that took the life of his wife previously).


The list is flawlessly accurate and in perfect chronological order with 3 dates yet to pass. Thinking he's crazy Josh tells his theory to a disbelieving colleague and after accepting he might be seeing things that simply aren't there he carries on with his painful life, all the while being watched by the spooky strange man, and then men, with white hair. Caleb even receives a visit from a couple who give him a small black, round stone...
When the first of the 3 dates and locations fall (literally) into Josh's lap with a viscerally filmed plane crash our protagonist knows there's a higher power at work, such as 'destiny' for example, and that somehow he is either the focus for these future events or is at least somehow involved. Determined to see if the second event (in New York) will come to pass Josh calls the FBI and fruitlessly warns them of the impending danger and heads there himself to see if he can stop it.
The second disaster (this time on the underground/ tube) happens with him right in the middle (again a shockingly gruesome and realistically filmed catastrophe). Josh is shocked into a devastating realisation that this is bigger than him and he can't do anything about it and heads home suffering from obvious shock. His colleague now believes him and Josh himself now knows there's no way this list is coincidentally matching numbers to events, so he sets out to discover the meaning of the last set of unfinished numbers on the paper.


Caleb in the meantime receives a vision from one of the white haired men which depicts a burning landscape with dying animals fleeing an encompassing fire. Here is where we are sure these men are no average weirdo's and mean no physical harm to Caleb regardless of the fact they are damn spooky and have supernatural powers (proved again when Josh tries to confront one outside his house and gets a face full of blinding white light from a spooky man's mouth).


During his search for answers Josh has tracked down Lucinda's daughter and granddaughter and confronted them about Lucinda's ability and the prophetic paper, to no avail. Diana, Lucinda's daughter, shut Josh down and ran away without giving any answers.
After a change of heart a while later, when Diana realises Josh is for real when the underground crash happens, they team up to track down not only what was going on with her mother but what the last digits mean.
They eventually find out that the final numbers relate to the end of all life on Earth and the final location (having been scratched into the gym basement door by Lucinda back in 1959) is actually Lucinda's old cabin in the woods that she eventually died in years ago and is the place to head to when the end comes, not the location of the disater like the previous locations. When Josh discovers that the extinction level event is actually going to be a super-flare emitted from our Sun there is a race against time to try and get to safety, a futile effort. The small black stones make a few more appearances throughout this time as they seem to appear in numerous places relevant to the plot with no answer to what they mean.
In the ensuing chaos created by a government warning of impending doom, Abby (Diana's daughter) and Caleb are kidnapped by the spooky white haired men and as Diana gives chase by car she is killed by a lorry (an event seen by her mother years before and something Diana knew was coming). Josh manages to figure out that the spooky men have taken the kids to the old cabin in the woods, surrounded by the mystery black stones seen throughout the movie, and when he confronts them a whole new path is taken with the plot.


The spooky white haired men are actually aliens from the future (I kid you not) who sent the original numbers to Lucinda as a child via a telepathic 'whispering' so that human-kind could prepare themselves for the end of the World and understand what the numbers meant by seeing that they relate to disaster events. The two kids, Calen and Abby (both of which it turns out have been hearing these whispers) have been chosen, along with many other children, to repopulate the species on a distant habitable planet that the aliens are going to take them to in their funky crystalline spaceship that appears over the forest. The catch is that Josh can't go with Caleb... He has to stay behind while his son goes off with the aliens.

When the kids depart a devastated Josh heads back to his estranged parents and sister, now believing in God and the afterlife, where he didn't before, and joins them in a loving embrace as the planet is savagely burnt to a cinder (again some pretty impressive special effects) and they all die...

The movie ends with a very religious image of the two kids, Caleb and Abby, running through a field of golden high-grass on this new planet, wearing white outfits and heading towards a mammoth white tree that resembles the biblical tree of life. Basically a re-envisioning of Adam and Eve in my view.
Alien ships set off in to the sky from all around, presumably dropping off other children across the landscape to fend for themselves and restart the human race... The End.






Review:
OK, so regardless of the fact that this movie jumps from intriguing supernatural-disaster-thriller to close encounters style sci-fi movie in the final act, something that is quite hard to swallow given the events preceding their unveiling, this actually isn't a bad film.
It's definitely slow paced and the tension is at times excruciating (in the bad way) but it does build to a somewhat satisfactory crescendo that, apart from the sci-fi aspect, as a parent, is both heart wrenching and devastating should you place yourself in that unlikely predicament of a father having to give up his son for the continuing survival of not only of him but the entire human race.

The special effects are good (why people complained on the internet before I'll never know) and the disaster events have a realistic, almost Cloverfield-filmed, quality to them that kicks you right in the ass as they're happening in front of your eyes. People rush out of the plane wreckage burning to death and screaming, the train literally evaporates crowds of people in a red mist as it plows through them into the station and the final apocalyptic scene where the World is toasted was reminiscent of movies like Independance Day and Terminator 2 while still feeling more real and destructive than anything I've seen in the past.

The upside is that the suspense was plentiful and the plot did actually go somewhere, even if it wasn't all love and roses in the end, and the whole thing felt like an M Night Shyamalan movie, specifically 'Signs' (even a little of the 1992 Jeff Daniels movie 'Timescape'). That's not a bad thing at all. Signs was a great movie and scared the living hell out of me at times!

The downside is that it's all a little slow paced for most cinema-goers and the end takes a lot to accept if you're not a film geek like me who has to expect this type of plot switcheroo from an offering from a director like Alex Proyas. Nicholas Cage is passable as the brooding widower, but as he gets older he seems to get that little bit more wooden (some would say that happened long ago) and as I'm a huge Cage fan (Con Air, Face-Off, Gone in 60 Seconds, both National Treasure films etc etc) it upsets me to see him reduced to a gibbering mannequin with the charisma of a stale crisp. He doesn't detract from the movie being a good popcorn flick, he was just a bit too depressing, but I guess that was kinda the point for a movie such as this. The rest of the cast were also 'passable' but I couldn't say there was a stand out performance with anyone. It was kind of a 'meh' ensemble which did the job without leaving a lasting impact on my mind.

Overall I would say "go and see this movie". It's not one to avoid but be aware that it could either be a brain teaser or a brain freezer depending on your ability to go with the flow and simply accept what you're watching without dissecting it for more answers than it's already given. You will leave the cinema on a downer if only because of the depressing nature of the movie's premise...

7/10


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