Alex Proyas has a thing for dark thrillers that probe complex aspects of human existence. The Crow (1994) introduced the director’s distinctive, gothic-informed visual skills to a wide audience, but Brandon Lee’s on-set death and an impressively curated soundtrack overshadowed the effort. It wasn’t until Dark City (1998), a visionary, futuristic noir rife with atmosphere and menace, that the Aussie native’s talents became alarmingly clear.
The years since have been sketchy: 2004’s ambitious I, Robot did big business but generated a mixed critical response and 2002’s Australia-set Garage Days didn’t even get a proper release in the U.S.
Now Proyas is back with Knowing, a supernatural thriller again set apart by a creeping darkness and sleek, seamless special effects.
John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) is an astrophysicist still reeling from the accidental death of his wife a year earlier; he’s left to care for his young son, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), and contemplate his relationship with his long-estranged pastor dad. The plot shifts into gear when John eyes a paper that has recently been unsealed from a time capsule at Caleb’s school. The mysterious missive is marked with a series of numbers that, when encoded, predicts the dates and death tolls of every major disaster of the last 50 years. The kicker? There are still three more disasters to go, which, of course, John tries to prevent.
Proyas stages the inevitable disasters with impressive, eerie precision — though much of the resulting destruction seems logistically excessive — and Cage gives a nuanced, surprisingly subtle performance as a man struggling to save not just his son but also the whole of humanity. Yes, Knowing is heady stuff. But even when Proyas’ ambition borders on strained seriousness — not to mention a series of final-act cliches — the result is a reasonably effective sci-fi thriller of uncommon craft and vision. Grade: B-