Knowing

Movie Information

The Story: A series of random numbers from 1959 turn out to catalog all the disasters of the ensuing 50 years, and may just hold the key to the future. The Lowdown: A beautifully made apocalyptic thriller that's undone by a screenplay that becomes increasingly ridiculous.
Score:

Genre: Horror/Sci-Fi/Crypto-Religious Fantasy
Director: Alex Proyas (I, Robot)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Chandler Canterbury, Rose Byrne, D.G. Maloney, Lara Robinson, Nadia Townsend
Rated: PG-13

Alex Proyas’ Knowing stands a very good chance of being in the running for best bad movie ever made. From a purely visual standpoint, it’s almost impeccable. It makes the most memorable use of the second movement of the Beethoven Seventh Symphony since John Boorman’s Zardoz (1974). The first one-third to one-half of the film is remarkably atmospheric and assured most of the time—even with Nicolas Cage’s patented flat performance. The effects work tends to be very good, too. Even when it’s not wholly believable, it’s so visually striking that it hardly matters. And there’s a very good Marco Beltrami score to top the film off. The problem is that the direction, the effects and the music are at the service of a screenplay that gets sillier and sillier as it moves from provocative horror thriller into the realm of religious-allegory science fiction.

The basic premise of the movie is OK. Back in 1959, a strange little girl (Lara Robinson) who hears voices whispering to her puts a series of seemingly random numbers into a time capsule. The numbers, it turns out, predict disasters for the next 50 years. It’s also workable that the set of numbers holds a strange fascination for the youngster, Caleb Koestler (Chandler Canterbury), who happens to open the capsule 50 years later. Ignoring for the moment the believability of Nicolas Cage as an MIT professor, the idea that his John Koestler cracks the meaning behind these numbers is sound enough, as are his efforts to prevent the next disasters on the list. All this is well developed—even cleverly developed. Throw in some creepy guy billed as “The Stranger” (D.G. Maloney), who keeps appearing in the woods near the Koestler house, and it all becomes pretty compelling—up to a point.

The trouble starts when the reason behind all these events begins to take shape. The reason—which I won’t reveal beyond saying this may be the cinema’s first use of Freewill Baptist aliens—isn’t just on the preposterous side, it also proves to be one of those instances when the viewer is likely to figure out what’s going on long before the characters do. It can be argued that the viewer knows he or she is watching a fantasy film and the characters don’t, and so the viewer has the edge. Fair enough. But it doesn’t keep the characters from coming across as a little on the dim side. More, everyone seems remarkably placid about what’s going on. And then there’s the whole business of using mass destruction in order to patch up dysfunctional families (see also Spielberg’s War of the Worlds from 2005). If nothing else, this strikes me as extreme.

There are a few other problems of note. Masses of CGI animals scurrying about en flammes suggest nothing so much as the result of a flash fire at the Magic Kingdom, and, in any case, don’t line up with the eventuality of the movie’s story line. Somehow or other, Proyas must have thought it would look really neat, which is surprising, since part of the reason much of the CGI works in the film rests on the decision—presumably his—not to linger on it. The subway crash, for instance, is an effective blend of CGI and apparent floor effects held together by editing that never holds a shot long enough for it to look cartoonish.

However, most of what keeps Knowing from being the persuasively chilling movie it promises to be at the start goes back to the screenplay by Ryne Pearson, Juliet Snowden, Stiles White and Stuart Hazeldine. It would be easy to lay the blame there, but not only is Proyas the producer as well as the director (indicating final word on the script), he’s also listed as having done an adaptation (whether of the story or the screenplay is not clear). As a result, Proyas has to shoulder the blame as well as reap the rewards for making this screenplay into something better than it deserves. Regardless, the results are a mixed bag: as likely to produce groans as shudders. Rated PG-13 for disaster sequences, disturbing images and brief strong language.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

14 thoughts on “Knowing

  1. clkwrkred

    I was pleasantly surprised with this, and I haven’t seen a Cage movie since Matchstick Men (I was forced into this one though). There were many things that didn’t work, but I did like the Stranger coming into the boy’s room, and some inductive reasoning shots of John sitting down seemed reminiscent of Kubrick (homage? ripoff?). The most laughable line? “We have to save the CHILDREN!!!!”

  2. Andrew Leal

    “Freewill Baptist aliens.”

    Now I’m almost interested. I wonder if it will spawn a trend; could Episcopalian aliens be just around the corner? A discovery that the Jesuits discovered space travel before anyone and managed to convert all of Saturn?

  3. Ken Hanke

    I take it the wig from Bangkok Dangerous isn’t in this?

    I believe the wig is currently on tour with a road company of Of Mice and Men. Lennie likes to stroke it.

  4. Ken Hanke

    The most laughable line? “We have to save the CHILDREN!!!!”

    I was kind of partial to Cage hitting the tree with the baseball bat and yelling, “You want a piece of this?”

  5. Ken Hanke

    A discovery that the Jesuits discovered space travel before anyone and managed to convert all of Saturn?

    I’m actually willing to belive that.

  6. Sean Williams

    When I first saw the preview for Knowing, I thought for sure it was National Treasure 3. But all Nicholas Cage movies are basically alike; only his hairdo changes.

    And then there’s the whole business of using mass destruction in order to patch up dysfunctional families. If nothing else, this strikes me as extreme.

    Console yourself with this thought: had it been an indie film, they would have gone on a road trip in a rickety R.V.

    Masses of CGI animals scurrying about en flammes suggest nothing so much as the result of a flash fire at the Magic Kingdom

    Do these masses include the monkeys from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? One can only hope.

    The most laughable line? “We have to save the CHILDREN!!!!”

    A while ago, there was an edited version of the theatrical poster circulating the internet. It had the tagline, “I must warn the world — [i]math is coming!”[/i] I could actually imagine Nicholas Cage uttering those words.

  7. Kevin Childers

    Mr. Hanke – I think your thoughts on this film (viz.religious allegory) I came home and sought a biblical reference to the fate of all the horde of people running amok (in NYC) down into the subways …

    2 Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come [...] and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

    2 Peter 3:13 Nevertheless [...] look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.

    I found the allegory in “The Fountain” much more appealing – e.g. the Tree of Life as it appears in the end. I’ll have to think about “Knowing” a bit longer.

  8. Ken Hanke

    look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness

    And apparently rabbits.

    I found the allegory in “The Fountain” much more appealing – e.g. the Tree of Life as it appears in the end.

    I found The Fountain much more appealing in every capacity. Of course, the lack of Nicolas Cage is part of that, but not all.

  9. Not so lost in the sea

    “Only those who heard are to be saved”. This world is a mess, just turn on your TV for the 6 oclock news. Sure hope that some of the movie’s views/takes on the bible’s prophecies are true. Oh yes Nicolas Cage is very predictable, but still like his movies. No need to answer to this opinion, not here to argue about personal views/beliefs.

  10. Ken Hanke

    Sure hope that some of the movie’s views/takes on the bible’s prophecies are true.

    So you’re saying that you’re all for the incineration of the earth?

    No need to answer to this opinion, not here to argue about personal views/beliefs.

    I see. You’re allowed to voice yours, but no one should respond. That’s rather neat.

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