Let me get this out of the way first. I am NOT a Nicholas Cage hater. I think he did brilliant work in Adaptation and I rather enjoy his neurotic/geeky persona in movies like The Rock. But when Nick Cage missteps, it can be bad.
In Knowing, there are absolutely some cringe-worthy moments (someone should tell Nick Cage to stop squinting and close his damn mouth), but Cage pulls it together enough to not sink the entire film. And the film has some very interesting things going on in it. In the end, Knowing overcomes its shortcomings to become an interesting, ballsy and thought-provoking film, even if it takes some shortcuts down the road of hackneyed genre convention to get there.
The movie opens 50 years ago. A clearly disturbed young girl, Lucinda, is hearing voices, and they tell her to write a seemingly meaningless string of numbers to be buried in a time capsule. When her note to the future is taken away from her prematurely, she locks herself in a closet and scratches something, we don’t know what, into the door until her fingers are bleeding.
I wonder if this will come into play later? Hmmm…
From there we jump 50 years into the future (present day, we’re told), where Cage’s John Koestler and his son, Caleb, are living their life together, both attempting to get over the loss of Caleb’s mother. Of course, the time capsule is opened up. Each child is given an envelope from one of the children in the past…guess which one Caleb gets?
John, being an MIT professor and all, quickly figures out (in a scene that seems like it isn’t even trying to be believable) that the numbers on the paper are predicting major disasters across the planet, telling us the date, the number of people killed, and the exact location of each event. The paper ends with an odd-looking 33, prompting Mr. Cage to ask the obvious question…what happens when the numbers end?
His search for this information leads him to Diane Wayland (Rose Byrne) and her daughter, Abby. Together they try to find Lucinda’s secrets as well as the identities of the “whisper men” that seem to be following the children.
And I guess that’s all I’m going to say about plot. It’s pretty standard when you get right down to it. The “lost wife/parent” angle is played out predictably, and the beginning of the movie begins to annoy us with theoretical ramblings about determinism, God, and the afterlife that seem to be dumbed-down for kindergartners. There is also an estranged father subplot that is wildly ham-handed and under-developed (but I do like how they handled it at the end of the film). It really feels like director Alex Proyas is hedging his bets to make sure mass-audiences don’t tune out of a decidedly dark film.
And be warned; there are a few very intense disaster scenes with some pretty disturbing images. People get wiped out left and right, and some are left screaming and burning. These scenes, I must admit, are more well done than I would have expected. There is a realism to them. They never quite feel like spectacle, but more like honest-to-God random acts. Shot with mostly handheld camera, we get a battlefield feeling with events happening both to our main characters and to other people in the periphery of the frame. Randomness is the goal (and also a theme of the movie) and Proyas pulls it off with ease.
It’s difficult to talk about this movie without spoilers. Perhaps this is a movie that deserves a spoilerific revisit, maybe around the time of DVD release, but for now I’ll wait until more people have seen it. I will say that it did exactly what I’d hoped for (based on the trailers). These disaster flicks tend to all wrap up the same way, and this one throws a bit of a wrench in the formula. It will take most people by surprise, and I do believe that a lot of people will quickly check out. Me, though, I respected what the film ended up going for, and I can forgive some of its technical flaws in favor of looking at the big picture.
My biggest problem with the movie is that it seems to be afraid to be what it wants to be. The movie sells itself as a straightforward thriller, almost a “The Ring” remake, in which a parent must find the right clues to save his son from impending doom. For 2/3 of the movie, that’s what it is, and that is the absolute least interesting part of the movie. Had it taken what was unique about its concept and expanded the parts that were new, different, and compelling, this movie could have earned the glowing review that I really want to give it.