© 2009 Ray Wong
Once in a while, there comes a science fiction that blends scientific speculations and theology and foretells a future too bleak to imagine. Alex Proyas, the master behind cult classics such as The Crow and Dark City, returns with an apocalyptic thriller that would sure make you think.
Dr. John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) is an MIT professor whose wife died in a fire a year ago, leaving him with a young son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury). At the 50th anniversary of Caleb's elementary school, a time capsule is opened. Caleb received a 50-year-old envelope that contains a drawing from a student named Lucinda (Lara Robinson). But instead of a drawing, it's a paper filled with random numbers.
However, John soon realizes that these numbers are not random at all. In fact, they are predictions of major disasters since 1959, and all the predictions have come true so far. Skeptical at first, John begins to realize that Lucinda possessed a special gift and somehow she's linked to Caleb. Meanwhile, a group of strange men follows Caleb, who starts to hear whispers around him. Knowing that certain calamities are about to happen, John is desperate to unlock the prophesies and mystery in order to save innocent lives, including his son's.
Nicolas Cage (National Treasure) has become a cliche lately, playing over-the-top action heroes in blockbusters and flops alike. In this film, Cage manages to tone down his personality to play an average Joe and desperate father. His performance is uneven, at times touching, and sometimes superficial. However, this is one of the more affecting performances he's given since getting the Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas.
As his son, Chandler Canterbury (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) does a good job. Often child actors overacts and become obnoxious, but Canterbury has a quiet, subtle demeanor that fits the role very well. Rose Byrne (28 Weeks Later) is effective as a scared, confused, and protective mother (and daughter of adult Lucinda). It's sometimes difficult to watch her character degenerate from a cheery mother to a hysterical mess. Lara Robinson (Work in Progress) is rather creepy playing dual roles: young Lucinda and her granddaughter Abby. The young actress also has an uncanny resemblance to Christina Ricci. And Nadia Townsend (What They Don't Know) is fine in a small role as Caleb's aunt, Grace.
Written by an army of writers headed by Ryne Douglas Pearson (Mercury Rising) and Juliet Snowden (Boogeyman), the story is a suspense-thriller wrapped in science fiction and religion. With its cryptology elements, one may try to compare this to the Da Vinci Code. But this story also reminds us of disaster movies such as Independence Day and Deep Impact. I can just imagine the pitch meeting for this one.
As a suspense-mystery, the screenplay does its job holding our interest, revealing only enough information at a time while stringing us along with intrigues and questions. The answers are never too elusive, though, and if the audience pays enough attention, they'd know where the story is going. Still, the film is suspenseful, even though the dialogue can be cliched and over the top. Some of the plot elements also test our suspension of disbelief. For example, the "strangers" have plenty of opportunities and time to do what they're here to do, and yet they just walk around. And don't even get me started on the "messages" they try to leave.
As a thriller, the film also does it job just fine, thanks to the tight direction of Alex Proyas (I, Robot). The film boasts some fantastic disaster sequences that are definitely too scary for the young ones. Some of the best effect shots for the genres. The actions are brisk and the tension is strong. What Proyas also succeeds to do is to anchor the story at a personal level. By focusing on John and Caleb's relationship, the film has a strong emotional core that sustains itself through some rather ridiculous plot development. It's a really good ride, though, even though there are enough cliches and similarities with other films (Signs, The Day the World Stood Still, etc.). And the ending has a surreal sense of optimism, even as it is anything but cheery.
I really enjoy the film, which leaves me something to think about afterwards. It succeeds in blending sci-fi and fantasy with a dash of religion in the mix. Some may argue that it is pro- or anti-religion. To me, none of that matters much, except for the idea of how we value our lives and what meanings we find in our existence and beyond. I think there's something profound about that. And it's good to know.
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Chandler Canterbury, Rose Byrne, D.G. Maloney, Lara Robinson, Nadia Townsend, Alan Hopgood
Director: Alex Proyas
Writers: Ryne Douglas Pearson, Juliet Snowden, Stiles White, Stuart Hazeldine, Richard Kelly
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disaster sequences, disturbing images, and brief strong language
Running Time: 130 Minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 7.7 out of 10