DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: KNOWING

Friday 20 March 2009


Knowing (2009) dir. Alex Proyas
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury


I think it’s safe to say that most genre fanboys continue to hold hope that Alex Proyas would deliver on the promise shown in “Dark City” and “The Crow”. It’s been over 10 years and Proyas still seems to be chasing those movies. After “Knowing” fanboys will still be waiting. “Knowing” has grandiose ambitions, a story about apocalypse proselytizing, alien worlds, and existential themes of randomness vs. fate, which ultimately plunders from an illogical script.

A prologue shows us a little girl in 1959 haunted by ghostly voices commanding her to scribble a series of random numbers on a piece of paper to be deposited in school time capsule. 50 years later, in 2009, the son of MIT Mathematics professor John Koestler, Caleb Koestler, is given the capsuled letter after the opening ceremony. Koestler notices the numeric combination of 91101 in the sequence and deciphers the page as a prediction of all the major disasters of the past 50 years, plus three new ones, including the final apocalypse.

Naturally, John’s attempts to convince the authorities of this fall upon deaf ears, and so he’s forced to save the world all by himself. Caleb becomes endangered when he starts hearing the physic voices and becomes the target by a mysterious group of other-worldly shadowy men. As John unravels the mystery he comes face-to-face with the end of the world, and one beyond Earth.

You need a great script into order to squeeze high concept scientific theories of alien existence, numerology and apocalyptic philosophy into a 2 hour thriller. “Contact” attempted this approach, but of course, the two writers of that film were working from a novel by Carl Sagan. Ryne Douglas Pearson’s script (with the help of four other co-writers) doesn’t have the logical due diligence for it to make any sense at all.

At every turn Nicolas Cage’s character, who is supposed to be an MIT Professor reacts with blockhead common sense. For example, having knowledge of where and when the next major disaster will strike, John, decides to make an anonymous call of a bomb threat to the New York police. When he checks up on the location the next day and finds there’s no security he decides to chase after the first shifty-eyed suspect he sees. Narratively these actions serve only to provide us with an action scene and a telemarked twist of misdirection. Guess what, the shifty-eyed suspect was only carrying bootleg DVDs!

With no script to work with, and likely no time to develop it or re-write properly, Proyas attempts to make up its failings with three super-duper disaster set pieces. Each scene is visualized with an astonishing amount of graphic imagery. While intense, to see men and women flailing in pain from being burned alive from a plane crash seems grossly irresponsible and out of tone with the rest of the film.

Somewhere in “Knowing” there was a possibility for a great film. There are a number of well-executed chilling suspense scenes involving the mysterious ‘shadow men’. We’re reminded of those creepy cloaked Nosfertu creatures in “Dark City” with long black trenchcoats and scary albino hair. Proyas crafts three or four stunning stand alone sequences dripping with bone-chilling suspense, unfortuately sandwiched between cringe-worthy illogical nonsense.

The film is cast very badly as well. A film like this needs an honest character like Mark Ruffalo to sell the believability of the situation. Imagine what Blindness would have been if Nicolas Cage was cast? I’m also sorry to say that young Chandler Canterbury playing the prominent role as Cage’s son is sorely lacking the abilities.

“Knowing” has much in common with the grand missteps of Shyamalan’s “The Happening”, some scenes of legitimate suspense, mixed with ill-conceived apocalyptic and philosophical gibberish.

PS. Like James Newton’s Howard’s score in "The Happening", the music in "Knowing", possibly Marco Beltrami's best work, is wasted.


Andrew D. Wells said...

Well, you'd think we saw two different movies from our reviews, but I agree with you on one thing Beltrami's score is one of the best I've heard in a while. It made me think of your piece on what happened to the great film scores. This one could fit in there.

Anonymous said...

Have to disagree. Your example of the scene in the subway station is a poor one. Just because a guy is a MIT prof. doesn't mean he knows the right thing to do with a vague knowledge of impending disaster. In fact, the scene is actually a very clever reversal on U.S. paranoia of lone bomber scenario. A disaster can be as simple as a mechanical malfunction.

I thought the plane crash scene was powerful and not in an exploitative way. It was consistent with the movie's theme of randomness of the suffering in this world vs determinism. All in all, a very passionate, powerful film. One thing I noticed is that Nicholas Cage is a very polarizing actor. I personally love his take-no-prisoner style of acting. Very cathartic. I think his presence in the movie contributes to the negative reception of the film.

Andrew D. Wells said...

I don't know who you are anonymous, but you bring up some of the primary differences I had with Alan on this film. The terrorist hot track the U.S. is on is a great observation. The scene also serves to prove something to Cage's character, that there really isn't anything he can do to stop the events. With the final disaster although he agrees to go to the caves, he knows it won't work (because he's an MIT prof.) but with the train disaster, he doesn't. It is a lesson he needs to learn in order to understand the significance of the events.

I also disagree about the plane crash scene. While I did not find the scene exploitative, it also acts as foreshadowing of what's to come. It is an even better example than the final disaster of the "lake of fire" from Revelations that is so important to the story. And I love that Proyas and his writer don't hold up the Revelations signs for the audience. If you don't realize what the story really is, it still works as a sci-fi thriller.

I also agree with anonymous' idea about Cage's presence. Like M. Night Shyamalan, critics have smelled weakness on Cage and they can't get the smell out of their nostrils, even when it isn't there. Cage has certainly done some crap films lately, but he's a good actor and this isn't one of those films.

Don't worry Alan, I won't go into my minority opinion of The Happening here.