Genre: Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Runtime: 2 hr 1 min
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Alex Proyas
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury, Ben Mendelsohn, Adrienne Pickering, Nadia Townsend, Alan Hopgood, Danielle Carter, Alethea McGrath
Both over- and underrated.
Review by: MiamiMovieCritic
Added: 7 years ago
Knowing (not to be confused with the 2007 Nicolas Cage flick Next) is one of those rarities: a movie that’s both over- and underrated.
Roger Ebert has called it one of the best sci-fi movies ever. It so isn’t, but the movie is also nowhere near as bad as some would have you believe. Ebert is fascinated by the film’s philosophical questions; if you go to his blog, you can read a very serious discussion about whether the aliens at the end are actually angels. (“Did you see wings?”) The haters are simply piling on the film because they don’t like Nicolas Cage. While I have some sympathy for that position after seeing Ghost Rider and Bangkok Dangerous, I find The Wicker Man a guilty pleasure, and you can’t deny the brilliant energy he brought to such films as Raising Arizona, Wild at Heart and Adaptation. Never pre-judge a film by this kind of angry-mob Internet buzz, I always say.
The film turns out to be not great or bad but merely good. It’s refreshing in that it’s a big-budget science-fiction film that’s not a remake or a reboot, and the concept behind it is certainly intriguing.
It was directed by Alex Proyas, who has yet to top his two triumphs of the 1990s, The Crow and Dark City. His visual sense is every bit as strong as Darren Aronofsky’s, and this is evident in the flashback sequence that opens the film and some spectacular special-effects scenes later on.
The flashback takes place in 1959. A class of grade-schoolers is asked to draw on pieces of paper what the future might look like in 50 years. Instead of doing a drawing, one of the girls obsessively writes row after row of numbers. The papers are put in a time capsule and buried underground.
Cut to the present day. Cage plays an MIT professor, John Koestler, who lives with his young son, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury, from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). Koestler is skeptical of the theory of determinism, and there’s an interesting discussion in which he admits he thinks “shit just happens.” The movie lays it on a bit thick in this regard – he’s a widower, and his father is a devout religious man – but no more so than M. Night Shyamalan did with Mel Gibson’s character in Signs.
Caleb happens to be in the class that digs up the time capsule. (Or maybe he doesn’t “just” happen to be there; the film argues that shit doesn’t “just happen.”) Caleb takes home the piece of paper on which the little girl wrote the numbers, and by accident Koestler discovers there’s a pattern here. The numbers correspond with the dates of every major disaster of the last 50 years. The first numbers he discovers are 911012996 – or Sept 11, 2001, on which 2996 people were murdered in the terrorist attacks.
Of course, there are other numbers that predict cataclysmic events in the near future. The first of these to come to pass is surely one of the most spectacular action scenes of the year. Captured in a single shot, it shows a plane crashing into a field. Koestler runs toward the wreckage, and passengers emerge screaming and on fire. The you-are-there immediacy of this scene is downright shocking.
Proyas has more tricks up his sleeve. Looked at in pieces, you can see how Knowing might have been a masterpiece, but it’s marred by some silly and preposterous moments. One note: it’s interesting how the aliens in the film (if that’s what they are) are referred to as “the Strangers.” This is the same name given to the frightening creatures in Dark City. Are they related?
The Special Features
The DVD has three special features. The best is a commentary track featuring Proyas, though it’s annoying that the man interviewing him is never identified. Whoever this man is, he’s a deadly serious interviewer. Proyas seems a bit testy when asked about the film’s religious connotations, but he’s engaging throughout. The two other special features are both slickly produced mini-docs: “Knowing All: The Making of a Futuristic Thriller” and “Visions of the Apocalypse.”