This film would have been so much better with a different lead. Will Smith perhaps or Sam Rockwell. Hell, I’d wager even Christian Slater could have done a more convincing job than horse-faced grunter Nic Cage. I am not, and have never been, a fan of his. I find his constant look of a man suffering from haemorrhoids as disturbing as I find his impression of Elvis annoying and I have rarely seen such a highly paid actor wheel out performance after performance of such outstanding mediocrity. Face/Off was a long time ago and he wasn’t even very good in that.
So, with my feelings for Cage firmly established I will now review his latest film.
Knowing is one dark blockbuster – if you’re looking for a date film, this isn’t it. Unless your date happens to get their kicks from watching the world burn, in which case you’re golden. Make no bones about it; this one ends on a grim note for us all.
The latest from I, Robot’s Alex Proyas, the film is all about the apocalypse as seen through the eyes of John and his son Caleb. Essentially, Cage plays an apocalyptic prophet who also happens to be a professor of astrophysics (I don’t believe that either). As the most intelligent guy in the room it��s only fitting that it should be him alone who gets his head around the clues, predicting when future disasters are going to happen and ending with the big one.
Said clues are found in a time capsule that was buried 50 years ago at his son’s school on a piece of paper written in a fevered moment by former student Lucinda. Clearly, she’s got issues but naturally her scribblings of a bunch of numbers are just dismissed at the time, even when she ends up scrawling the last few in a broom cupboard with her bloodied fingers as she doesn’t have time to place them down on paper. I hope to goodness schoolteachers in real life would take such events more seriously.
Anyway, through a series of coincidences, or perhaps determinism, Caleb ends up with the piece of paper and shows it to his dad who really rather quickly works out that it’s a list of dates of all the major disasters in the past with a few coming up in the future – all of which happen to be around where he lives. Lucky that, or rather unlucky, actually. Events then get more interesting/unbelievable when John catches up with Lucinda’s daughter Diana and her young girl Abbey and some extraterrestrials turn up to save the day – for some at least.
I know that plot synopsis sounds confused and a bit preposterous but, in all honesty, I can’t make it sound any other way, for this is a truly silly film based on a potentially really interesting premise. It’s a real shame as, for the first hour or so, despite the fact that John really does come up with the answers behind the numbers far too quickly to be plausible, it’s actually quite gripping and genuinely disturbing in parts. The first encounters with the aliens are particularly well executed with distressing visions aplenty.
But, of course, the movie’s standout moments are the disasters themselves and for these three scenes alone the film is worth watching, in particular an airplane crash that you may have spied a glimpse of in trailers for the film. It comes as a shock when it happens and the continuous tracking shot of Cage wading through the wreckage is grandstanding stuff from Proyas. As buildings burn and the earth breathes its last gasps, the film also ends on a really rather depressing yet gripping note.
Away from the disasters, though, Knowing remains a confused and confusing film. It clearly wants to say more about the theologies behind apocalyptic visions and determinism vs. causality, but it fails, largely down to Cage’s unbelievable performance and to the sheer amount of plot that is shoehorned into the plot. There’s just too much stuff to cover here and it buckles, significantly so in the final third, under the weight of it all. This is a massive shame as I would happily award an extra star or two for the film’s opening couple of acts.
Proyas and writers Ryne Pearson and Juliet Snowden seem also to want to say something big about mythology, man’s relationship with God and how a man of science would deal with the end of the world, but ultimately Knowing will be only remembered for its three, admittedly excellent, set pieces.
Extras: Not too much in the way of extras, which is disappointing given the subject matter. Cage is nowhere to be seen, probably too busy practising his whispered delivery, and a director’s commentary is solid, but not great.
There are also two featurettes, one of which, Visions Of The Apocalypse, features some very dull theologians and mythologists discussing the theories behind the film, although not really as while clips of the movie are played in between their musings the experts themselves never actually refer to it at all. It’s quite interesting if you want to learn more about how various cultures believe in the apocalypse and how such drastic visions are becoming more and more linked with actual environmental and extremist concerns. It would have been nice had it been tied in to the feature itself, however.
Better is the 12-minute feature, The Making Of A Futuristic Thriller, which includes brief chats with the actors, Cage aside, and Proyas plus a more in-depth look at the technical feat of the plane crash scene – how the actors effectively had to shoot in one take so finding their queues was all important, how a soon to be opened highway in Melbourne was used for the scene etc.
Throw in a few TV spots and a trailer and you have a fairly poor treatment of a fairly standard movie. More would have been welcome, and why no Cage?