Knowing Review

Directed by: Alex Proyas
Written by: Ryne Pearson, Juliet Snowden, Stiles White, Stuart Hazeldine, Alex Proyas
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Chandler Canterbury, Rose Byrne, Lara Robinson, Nadia Townsend

Back in the late ’90s, Alex Proyas was a director that had earned himself a lot of admirers. He had two dark and visually stunning cult hits under his belt with The Crow and Dark City (the latter of which Roger Ebert continues to sing the praises of to this day), before he threw everyone a curve ball and he went in a completely different direction with the rock n roll coming of age movie Garage Days. He followed that with the disappointing Will Smith action sci-fi blockbuster I, Robot. Suddenly no one knew what to think of the guy anymore.

Five years later, Proyas has returned to his sci-fi/horror roots with a movie called Knowing, but with the plot shrouded in mystery and Nicolas Cage in the lead role, there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the project. Could it possibly be a return to form for this talented filmmaker, or would it prove to be just another Nicolas Cage dud in the vein of Next, Ghost Rider or (god forbid) The Wicker Man? Well, although it’s no Dark City, let’s just say that the impending disaster that a lot of people predicted never actually comes to pass.

The movie opens in the year 1959, with an elementary school preparing to bury a time capsule containing predictions of the future as drawn by the students. One little girl is not drawing a picture, however. Instead she is furiously scribbling a series of strange numbers on the page, seemingly possessed. Fifty years later, the time capsule is opened and her scribblings end up in the hands of Caleb Koestler (Chandler Canterbury), son of astrophysicist John Koestler (Nicolas Cage). He has recently lost his mother in a tragic fire, and thinks that there may be some sort of puzzle in the numbers. His father thinks otherwise, until one night, after a few drinks he happens to notice a pattern in amongst the randomness: a list of major catastrophes around the world and the number of people who died in them. Even more alarming is the fact that not all of them have happened yet.

Needless to say, the first half of Knowing starts down a fairly predictable path where he tries to warn people but no one believes him; meanwhile his son starts to see eerie visions and hear whispers that are somehow connected. There are a handful of plot points that seem a little too convenient, and some familiar elements from other movies we’ve seen many times before, but the mystery continues to drive things forward.

Eventually there comes a point where the movie really throws down the gauntlet and proves that it might have something new to offer after all. You may have seen clips or heard about a certain plane crash scene in the movie, and all I can say is wow… this intense single-shot sequence of visual effects mastery could be on par with some of the more visceral continuous scenes in Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men. The movie actually has a few other jaw-dropping special effects set pieces that follow, many of which seem to have been withheld from trailers and commercials in order to avoid spoilers. It may actually be worth seeing the movie for these alone.

From here on in, the movie changes course and hurtles off in some unexpected directions, and you’ll either come along for the ride or find it a little too preposterous to process. Personally, I was hooked at this point, thanks in large part to the skillful direction of Mr. Alex Proyas. What Knowing reminded me of most was a really solid M. Night Shyamalan movie — not Lady in the Water or The Happening, but something harkening back to Signs and The Sixth Sense. I realize that this won’t be a selling point for everyone since Signs had its share of detractors, but the important point is that the atmosphere and suspense tend to override the thin logic in most cases. There is some really creepy imagery in this flick (what is it with Proyas and pale skinned people in dark trench coats?), and an overwhelming sense of dread that stems from a powerful score by Marco Beltrami.

The movie’s main weakness is, as expected, Nicolas Cage. With someone else in the lead role, this probably could have been a much more well-rounded film. Instead, we have to put up with Cage’s odd moments of overacting, where he fails to fully sell the half-crazed man who is shaken by the things he has seen, but also lays on the cheese during some of the more heartfelt moments with his son. It’s not nearly as bad a performance as some of his previous films, but it’s definitely inconsistent at best. The good news is there is one fun scene where he hits a tree with a baseball bat and challenges, “You want some?”. Believe me, it’s gold.

Fortunately, Cage’s cornball delivery does not ruin the movie. There are bigger things at work here. Knowing is a surprisingly effective (if somewhat disposable) thriller, one that requires a little imagination, but also one that doesn’t end up where you expect it to. (Trust me when I say that that this movie has very little resemblance to either Next or The Number 23.) If you’re the type of person who needs every loose end tied up and every little nuance explained, then Knowing may irk you. But considering that we’ve been subject to so many poor paint-by-numbers supernatural thrillers over the past few years, seeing one that is this enjoyable and this competently made is definitely a pleasure to behold. I don’t know if I’d say Alex Proyas has quite redeemed himself with Knowing, but at this point, he’s definitely back on my radar. — Sean

SCORE: 3 stars

Recommended If You Like: Signs, Dark City, Close Encounters of the Third Kind

  • marilyn

    “.. typical Hollyweird..entertaining…I can see how people believe the whole UFO/alien stuff…pretty deceiving….take scriptural truth out of context….add your choice of weirdness… and voila! whatever…ok, I only wasted a redbox buck…

  • probably one of the worst film I’ve seen in a while and to compare it to M. Night Shyamalan movie, are you mental?! good core idea though.

  • Ian

    I watced this film last night.

    I loved every second of it, an amazing film…. some woman predicting the end of the earth and all these death events. It’s epic… and it has you on edge and constantly attached….

    but then..

    the ending… what a way to ruin a film… after all the suspense, afting all the cripping action…
    aliens….yes…aliens come down and save the children.

    A true f*ck up. An amazing film… spoiled by aliens. It’s almost like they couldnt be bothered to end the film so they were like “screw it… just send down aliens to end it”
    I mean common… aliens? really? no twisted end.. no result?

  • Jose Fabian

    Determinism is dead, its assassin was quantum mechanics. Please don’t think that events are really cause and effect.

    Photons hit your retina, and you see the world around you. Your brain is sensitive to quantum physics.

  • I haven’t seen “Knowing,” yet. (I figure in five years, I will have forgotten what I read and the ending will be a surprise.)

    (I’m writing a screenplay right now where humanity struggles with environmental problems. We eventually clean up Mother Nature by discovering a non-polluting energy source, repairing the ozone layer, and restoring the rain-forests. And at the end of the movie, aliens arrive and blow-up the Earth.)

    I wanted to address what Jose Fabian wrote even though I have no idea how it relates to the movie. Quantum mechanics only applies on the small scale. Determinism still applies on the human scale. As far as I know, we’re still looking for a unified theory. IMO, I have a hunch that we’re misinterpreting the results from all the strange quantum physics experiments. Sorry if this derails the discussion of “Knowing” off into a quantum physics debate. :-)

  • Henrik

    Just like most film discussion boils down to you like what you like and you don’t care to defend it, this discussion boils down to you experience your own experience, and you don’t know shit about how anybody else experience anything.

    Whenever anybody speaks about things like “writing” or “green”, they should acknowledge that their own experience of either concept could be vastly different from everybody elses, yet still represent the same things in their mind.

  • Henrik
  • Eric

    The knowing sucks it is a good film but then the writer smoked crack and wrote the last half hour. It makes no sense what so ever the creepy pale guys are apparently aliens?? and picked caleb and the little girl to repolpulate earth and get picked up in a space ship!!!!! I enjoyed the movie until then but the end just makes watching it a waste of time because it’s lamest reason ever for al the disasters. It really seems that the writer wantend to get off easy and didn’t really feel like thinking any more.

  • Geoff

    Whilst Knowing may not be as good as The Crow and certainly Dark City ( one of my all time favourite movies ), it is certainly no bomb. I rented the DVD and watched it twice on 2 consecutive nights and was just blown away. OK Nicholas Cage is not the greatest actor in the world and that childlike tone he adopts does tend towards the irritating, but playing an alcoholic widower single parent, his dreamy not quite there delivery worked pretty well for me. The plot is beautifuly drawn out, not too long and not rushed, the music is stunning ( Marco beltrami definitely on form ) and the effects are superb. I really do not get the reviews that criticised the effects as the train scene is, for me, one of the most disturbingly exhilerating things I have seen in a long time. The whole movie has a lovely almost sepia toned painterly quality to it and is by turns exciting, horrific, and always emotional. The ending is the only logical conclusion to the plot and, if you believe in the idea that aliens are actually people from the future, then the idea of the plot actually works very well.Mr Proyas has definitley not lost his touch and I certainly dont need any sheets of numbers to know that Ifor one will be watching this movie many times more in the future.

  • Justin

    If you really wanted to make the worst movie possible, well you succeded. It had a decent plot, but the rocks and aliens and the final death of everyone finally blew me. There a few hours of my life I’ll never get back! Nice Happy ending!
    p.s. Nicholas cage is a great actor( usually) and there is nothing wrong with the left behind series, so please stop insulting it.

  • Mike

    I just got a Blue Ray player and this was my first Blue Ray disc. I knew nothing about this movie and read no reviews before watching it. I liked the film and the special effects were awesome. Put me off flying and travelling on the Subway though lol. I’d give it 4 stars out of 5.

  • Consuela

    I liked the movie and it kept me on edge. The whisper men actually scared me lol…I HATED the ending though. I was like ok…so you spent the entire time deciphering the code and you still couldnt prevent anything…everyone on earth dies except the little boy and girl who are the key to the future??? IDK *shrug* it was a little messy …but still good nonetheless..

  • Sarah

    I was not expecting that ending at ALL during the movie me and my friends labeled the movie as one you need a boyfriend to hold onto but when it came to the ending I was TOTALLY left out in the dark. I had no idea what the concept of the ending was. I was dissapointed that the dad dies in the end instead of a happy ending where at least the dad and son reunite. That was the worst ending I have ever seen in a movie like this. I mean even some scary movies have better ending than this where at least the reunite or see each other before they die but THIS I was crying because they didn’t see each other. I was sad because I wasnted the dad and son to be together. But in the end I didn’t know if this was a religios film or a post-apocalypic. It was very confusing. Every part of the movie was AWESOME but the ending so I give it an 8 out of 10. I was dissapointed that they spent all that time trying to crack the code when e couldn’t do anything about it, and I’d be pretty pissed if I didn’t get to go with my son I’d be torn apart. But overall I really liked it.

  • Diane

    So did Peter Jackson’s Lovely Bones get a discount price on the tree set which was used in the end scene of Knowing

  • So I finally saw “Knowing.” And I loved it. Probably as much as Roger Ebert does. (Actually, I agree with Ebert a lot, and Film Junk readers seem to respect Ebert, so I don’t understand why many Film Junk readers don’t think much about my opinions even allowing for the fact that I can’t explain myself.) I’m an atheist, and I had no problems with the religious aspects. I believe we are “alone” in the universe, and I had no problems with the “aliens.”

    I wanted to address an issue that many people seem to think is a flaw in the plot of the film. What was the purpose of the girl in 1959 creating the list with all the predictions when it seemed that nothing could be changed? From the perspective of humanity, humans have free will. But from the perspective of “aliens” or “gods” that exist outside of our time frame, what we do appears to them to be deterministic. That is, these “aliens” can see all the decisions we will eventually make. The “aliens” whispered to the girl the suggestion of the time capsule and the number predictions in order to set up the meeting of her grand-daughter with Cage’s son! The number predictions weren’t meant for Cage to change events, but rather to facilitate the meeting.

  • Mrs. Robinson

    This review is a little late in coming, since I just saw this film for the first time on HBO or Showtime today. First of all, I like Nicolas Cage. I thought his acting was ok, and quite honestly, I just like looking at him. I thought the beginning was interesting. It was the “narrative hook” that made me want to keep watching. As far as believability, I don’t think films have to be believable. Entertainment sometime requires the “willing suspension of disbelief”. I thought the movie was stupid despite the need for reality. If the world was going to end in 2009, why did the little girl from 1959 have to live a tortured life “knowing” that it was going to end in fifty years? Why would she give birth to a child she knew would die in a horrible way? Why would anyone receive a warning? And why? Why oh why, are the chosen ones always always always pretty white children? If they are going to repopulate this new planet, won’t everyone be inbreds? Just like Adam and Eve’s kids too, I guess, for morons who believe that tripe. My grandmother told me that Cain married an ape and that’s where black people came from. I grew up believing that shit. Bottom line…. it’s just a movie. I’m glad I didn’t pay for it at the theatre. I’d still do Nick Cage.

  • Guy

    I nearly shit my pants laughing when Nicky honestly tries to get the attention of the running man on fire with a “Hey!?!”.

    Still, we did get an outstanding Marco Beltrami score out of this nonsense.

  • That movie waz a piece of shit i hav never seen something so hilarious in all my 16 years of living