Before even being screened, Knowing had one big strike against it (or for it): Nicolas Cage is in it.
Oh, Nicolas Cage. Nicky boy, what are we going to do with you? There’s just something about you that’s so… I don’t know, likable? When I see you on the screen and you squint and scoff and make weird faces, it doesn’t make me hate you. When Jimmy Fallon did that on Saturday Night Live, I wanted to stab him in the face with a corkscrew, but when you do it? I just kind of chuckle and look past it.
Is it possible that I look at Nicolas Cage, realize in every movie he’s just playing Nicolas Cage, and say to myself, “You know what? I’m okay with it.” I think I’m at the point where I realized that most of the time he isn’t even trying to craft a character or differentiate the role from himself in any way and instead of making me scream, “Oh my God, what are you doing here? Why are you in this movie!?” I just smile and say, “You know, he seems like he’d be a fun guy to hang out with.” We could get a couple of brews, talk about comic books and Elvis, and chill out in his giant Hollywood mansion.
John Koestler (Cage) is a brilliant, yet troubled man. He’s a professor at MIT, which pays the bills, but a year before, his loving wife died in a hotel fire, leaving him alone to raise their son, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), in a crumbling old house. Fifty years earlier, creepy pale girl Lucinda Embry (Lara Robinson, needing only a bucket of water and clown paint to go shoot The Grudge 3) wrote out a series of numbers and stuck it in a time capsule. Caleb is the lucky boy who, through accident or determinism, receives that missive. It’s a key; the numbers predict a series of disasters and their death tolls. It’s up to Professor Cage and Lucinda’s daughter Diana (Rose Byrne) to figure out, and then try to stop, the last remaining massive disaster.
I really can’t decide if Knowing is ludicrous or brilliant. Perhaps it’s both. Kind of like Nicolas Cage as a mathematician is both ludicrous and brilliant. At no point in time do I actually buy him as a professor at MIT, yet when he’s protecting his son or racing a pickup truck against time, his weird twitchy intensity works well, as does his constantly worried face and body language. While there are moments in which he strains credibility by being himself (particularly when trying to summon some anguished grief), he’s not too bad. I think he’s trying again, which is nice given that we know what he’s done in the past versus his recent output. Rose Byrne is in fairly good form as well, though all she has to do is be sane and let Nic do his crazy neurotic shtick to come off well. Despite having kids in crucial roles, both Canterbury and Robinson (who also plays Diana’s daughter, Abby) are able to be precocious without being terribly obnoxious, though both have their moments of awfulness.
I can attribute the fact that this movie is way better than I had expected solely to director Alex Proyas. He did The Crow, Dark City, and I, Robot, so he’s able to take a pretty standard sci-fi blockbuster and make it interesting both on a philosophical level and on a general ‘I’m tense and waiting to see what happens next’ level. I never thought the movie would actually grab me so strongly, yet by the third act I was shifting around in my seat with the urge to relieve my bladder yet unable to get up and do so for fear of missing how the movie was going to finish. I also didn’t want to miss any of the special effects, the highlight of which is a stunning plane crash scene reminiscent of the race through the slum in Children Of Men.
The script of this film is also really interesting (which could be a byproduct of the fact that there are five listed as working on the screenplay and a further adaptation by Proyas). It’s a fairly conventional movie of this ilk 95 percent of the time, but while it flirts with becoming totally predictable, it always swerves at the last minute to give you something you don’t expect. There are several moments that, in a different movie, would be pedestrian and predictable. What you think is going to be next doesn’t happen in this film, but it doesn’t sink into a bizarre M. Night Shyamalan-style twist festival.
If it sounds like I’m not entirely sure what to make of this movie, it’s because I’m not. It has a lot of great qualities about it, and it does some really ballsy things in terms of how it approaches its plot and how it resolves the big issues. I’d love to discuss them but don’t want to spoil the surprise. It brings up a lot of deep issues, yet it’s still kind of a big, implausible sci-fi blockbuster. There are some awful moments in terms of performance and script, yet some surprisingly good moments. The second ending after what I felt should’ve been the first ending also took off some points. It was very thought provoking, but flawed.
I think we can write this one down as surprisingly good, but could’ve been better.