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