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Knowing Knows Entertainment But Not Overall Satisfaction

knowing_image1Let me preface this by saying that I have not turned on Nicolas Cage like a lot of people have. I’ve always found him appealing and I think he’s a talented actor who makes interesting choices. I love how after winning the Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas in 1995, he did what he wanted to do: make kick-ass action movies. And he made three fantastic ones right in a row: The Rock, Con Air, and Face/Off, possibly the greatest non-franchise American action movie ever made. A lot of snobby twits said he sold out for doing these, but I think it is just the opposite. I’ve enjoyed so many of his films over the years, and I think he’s very versatile. Matchstick Men, Lord of War, The Weather Man, the first National Treasure…I even liked Snake Eyes and Windtalkers and last year’s Bangkok Dangerous.

That being said, I acknowledge he has made some stinkers lately, and since around 2006 or so, he has really started to look like hell. He needs a new wig assistant that will give him sideburns, because he really is looking bad and considerably older than his 45 years. This brings us to his latest effort Knowing, which, despite an intriguing premise and very impressive visuals, doesn’t quite deliver the goods.

Cage does solid leading man work as John Koestler, a professor of astrophysics at MIT and a widow trying to raise his young son Caleb. Heknowing_image3 drinks more than he should and doesn’t believe there is any great meaning in life. In a lecture, he asks his students whether they see the universe as deterministic or random—that is, can understanding the laws of physics mean you can predict everything that will happen in the universe? If Koestler once believed in determinism, he doesn’t now. But his (lack of) faith is tested when his son brings home a page of handwritten numbers from a time capsule that was buried at his elementary school fifty years ago. The film’s prologue shows who wrote the page of numbers and put them in the time capsule: A disturbed little girl named Lucinda.

Koestler stumbles onto the numbers by accident and soon discovers a chilling pattern: groups of numbers all correspond to the dates and fatalities of every major disaster in the last fifty years. Plane crashes, 9/11/2001. even the hotel fire that killed his wife are all there. There are some numbers he doesn’t know the meaning of, and what’s worse, the numbers say that there will be several major disasters in the next few days and maybe even the end of the world. Koestler shows the numbers to a colleague at MIT, but he just thinks Koestler is unbalanced in the wake of his wife’s death. So does Koestler really know that these catastrophes are going to happen or not? There lies the setup for the movie.

knowing_image21It’s a great premise, and Cage is quite good at portraying franticness and dread. In addition to trying to figure out what these disasters are going to be and prevent them, Cage also tries to investigate Lucinda, who killed herself a few years ago. Eventually he tries to recruit her daughter Diana (played by Rose Byrne who is excellent on FX’s Damages) and granddaughter Abby into the fold of things, though Diana wants no part of it, having spent her life living with a disturbed mother who everyone thought was crazy. But only Caleb and Abby can hear and communicate with these creepy-looking guys dressed in black who start appearing and may have something to do with the numbers. Are they good or bad? Human or creature? Alien? All of these questions are part of the framework of the film.

There are truly amazing special effect sequences in Knowing, and the film, which was shot on the Red camera, is expertly shot. The director, Alex Proyas, of Dark City and I, Robot, has some unexpected tricks in his sleeve, and the film is undeniably entertaining. But I found that the ending didn’t really pay off in the major way it should, and brought nothing new to the table. The whole film often reads like a poor man’s Signs, and the similarities are undeniable: a widowed father who has lost his faith dealing with supernatural events as he tries to keep his family together. The ending is somewhat bold for a mainstream star vehicle, but it doesn’t really hit it out of the park. There is suspense in the film but I was never totally on the edge of my seat. So in summary, it’s an entertaining film and Cage does a solid job, but it is nowhere near a classic sci-fi film or supernatural thriller. Roger Ebert however raves about Knowing, giving it four stars. I think that’s overkill, but he does have an interesting essay talking about some of the philosophical questions the film poses:
For J.B.’s review, click here.

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