Summit Entertainment // 2009 // 121 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // July 7th, 2009
Knowing is everything...
It's been a rough few years for Nicolas Cage. An Oscar winner just over a decade ago, Cage has in recent times sullied much of his former industry cred by starring in a series of horrible blockbusters and pitiful remakes. The like of Ghost Rider and The Wicker Man now overshadow Raising Arizona and Con Air, leaving Cage's legacy as more of a laughingstock than a popular body of work. So on that basis, Knowing seemed like a sure-fire clunker: a sci-fi flick released early in the year with a terrible title is sign enough of bad times, but Cage's name above the title cemented my rock bottom expectations. Surely this was going to stink. Surely on those credentials it stood no chance of being any good, right?
Wrong-o. Knowing is actually a very fine thriller, orchestrated beautifully by director Alex Proyas, and easily marks the best Nic Cage film since Lord of War. It's almost enough to make you forget beatings in bear suits. Almost...
The movie opens in 1959, when we are introduced to a school; it quickly transpires that said institution is compiling a time capsule, for students 50 years down the line to open. The children get busy drawing and interpreting their visions of the future, but one girl named Lucinda (Lara Robinson, Work in Progress) hears voices, telling her to place a seemingly random selection of numbers on the page she is submitting to the capsule.
Fast forward half a century, and the page falls into the hands of John Koestler (Nicolas Cage, Con Air) via his schoolboy son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury, Powder Blue). Initially John shrugs it off as nothing, but one night he analyzes the numbers and starts to decode a series of dates from the mass. Each date represents a major global catastrophe from the past 50 years, but there are still three dates to go. In a bid to stop further crisis, John contacts Lucinda's daughter Diana (Rose Byrne, Sunshine) in the hope she can reveal something of her mother's abilities and help prevent several more fatality-heavy epidemics.
Knowing is packed with interesting concepts and ideas, the plotline itself makes for a thoroughly engaging thriller, but the movie also boasts an exploration of religion and science, at times combining the two to devastatingly impressive effect. The idea of pitting religion against science is hardly fresh, but Knowing executes its observations and contrasts in an interesting fashion whilst all the time using a kick ass sci-fi storyline to keep the hordes happy. I suppose what's most gratifying about the picture is that it isn't completely empty headed but at the same time it's easy enough to sit down and enjoy as pure unabashed entertainment. The film received wildly uneven reviews but the box-office was solid, its financial endurance a testament to the public's acknowledgement of its valiant goal of providing intelligent popcorn cinema. If the summer was filled with a few more flicks like Knowing, I doubt we would have to sit through the numbskulled likes of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
The performances are sound and the chemistry and character development largely believable. Cage still displays a tendency to overact (but hey, that's why we used to love him) but when the scenes really matter he shows resilience and pulls through with a surprisingly accomplished and well-rounded leading turn. I'm not willing to forgive him (yet) for the past five years, but Knowing displays that there is still hope of the Oscar winning Cage coming back out one of these days. Rose Byrne gets second billing but only features in the movie's second half; she's a solid presence and one that I could happily see more of. Her character isn't perhaps the most intriguing or fascinating but she does decent work with what is shot her way. More prominent as Cage's lonely son is Canterbury who probably gives the film's most affecting and three-dimensional turn. I normally don't mind calling up child actors for lousy acting, but Canterbury shows a maturity and understanding of his craft beyond his years. He and Cage also forge a low-key but realistic relationship as father and son, a key reason why Knowing works so well. It provides the project with a genuine humanity and something to route for amidst the science and explosions.
The dialogue isn't always perfect, but the script is well structured and allows for a lot of tension, incorporating in the themes of religion and science to excellent effect. Screenwriters Ryne Douglas Pearson, Juliet Snowdon, and Stiles White keep the deeper subtext nestled within a pot boiler of a thriller, subtly bringing it out at times of exposition and character interaction. The theories and constructs at the heart of Knowing aren't slopped on with disregard for those simply on hand to see a whole bunch of stuff blow up, but to be dug up by those looking for a slightly more cerebral film to go with their snacks and soda. I also have to give the writers props for creating a few warm and emotionally full relationships to put on the screen; we're given more than just artificial interaction and superficial assumptions to work with here.
There are three massive set-pieces on hand in Knowing and several smaller scale moments of pulse pounding excitement, complimented wonderfully by an eerie and majestic score courtesy of Marco Beltrami. Beltrami has proven himself an ace composer thanks to his work on 2006's remake of The Omen and several other musically accomplished efforts, and in Knowing his melodies strike the ideal and highly suspenseful note they're aiming for. The disasters themselves are brilliantly shot and flawlessly deploy CGI on an epic scale, allowing the film some spectacular landmarks before the apocalyptic finish. Proyas doesn't wield technology like a child in a toy store; he only uses it to add excitement or visual oomph to his film, never for the sake of simply having it.
The DVD comes complete with an unsatisfying EPK style making of featurette and another little piece on the various interpretations and fears that the thought of Armageddon stirs within us. It's a pretty hokey little feature and feels a little undercooked but of the two it's the more entertaining. There is also a dense commentary from Proyas; good for viewing in small chunks, but not something most people are going to want to digest in one go. It's a pretty standard package for a film I felt could have had great DVD potential, the bonus material leaves alot of stones unturned. The audio and video are high caliber, the disaster sequences looking and sounding particularly awesome on any home entertainment system worth a damn.
The film attracted alot of negative energy for its crazy little ending, and
on this account I have to agree. It's only the final 10 minutes that really
suffer but the whole conclusion was just a little too bizarrely uneven in
comparison to the rest of the picture. Knowing is a good enough film for
it to only slightly detract from the viewing experience, but without giving to
much away, someone was clearly watching a little to much Kingdom of the
Crystal Skull. Plus this is where Nicolas Cage's overacting sort of moves
from fun and energetic to the wrong side of silly.
Also the title still sounds kind of crappy.
A misfiring final 10 minutes aside, I found much to love and more to like about Knowing, and was impressed by its willingness to be something more than a bare bones sci-fi spook fest. Watching the trailers earlier this year, I thought I was in for Nicolas Cage doing The Number 23 (an already bad film) but what is served up here is a mostly delicious and thrilling experience. Hopefully Cage can build on this and get his once-promising career back on the tracks.
Forget what you think you know and give this cool little thriller a rental.
It's not guilty and when the smoke clears concerning some of the recent Nicolas
Cage bombs, it stands a chance of becoming a genuine genre favorite -- and it
doesn't even need a bear suit.
Review content copyright © 2009 Daniel Kelly; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Summit Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 121 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Wikipedia: Knowing