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Knowing (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 18, 2023


KNOWING (2009)

Starring Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury, D.G. Maloney, Lara Robinson, Nadia Townsend, Alan Hopgood, Adrienne Pickering, Joshua Long, Danielle Carter, Alethea McGrath, David Lennie, Tamara Donnellan, Travis Waite, Ben Mendelsohn, Gareth Yuen and Lesley Anne Mitchell.

Screenplay by Stuart Hazeldine, Ryne Douglas Pearson, Juliet Snowden, and Stiles White.

Directed by Alex Proyas.

Distributed by Summit Entertainment. 122 minutes. Rated PG-13.

It’s beginning to seem like a long, long time ago, but once upon a time, Nicolas Cage was known as an adventurous, consummate actor who would only spend his time on intriguing roles in interesting, offbeat projects. Somewhere in the 90s he met Jerry Bruckheimer and started peppering in the occasional action blockbuster like The Rock or Con Air – but you couldn’t really blame the guy for taking an occasional easy payday between his more artistic roles. However, as years passed the cheesy titles became more and more prevalent, to the point that in the last several years his quirky work in small, artistic films has all but disappeared. (Adaptation. in 2002 is probably the last Nicolas Cage film in which his acting was noticed at all.)

The apocalyptic thriller Knowing had the chance to be one of Cage’s better sellout movies – and it is… for about half the screen time. It was written and directed by Alex Proyas, the mind behind the cult-fave noir fantasy Dark City with Rufus Sewell and Jennifer Connelly. It has an intriguing premise; a time capsule buried for 50 years is opened and reveals a paper that predicts every major catastrophe in that time. Knowing also has two spectacular action scenes – involving a plane crash and a subway derailment.

So how did Knowing go so far off track? (Sorry… no pun intended.)

I’m not sure but walking out of the theater I couldn’t believe what a ridiculous mess the film ended up being.

It was particularly depressing, because it started off pretty well.

There is a short prologue in 1959, where a newly opened school decides to bury a time capsule for future generations. Students in the class are told to draw a picture of how they imagine the world will look in fifty years. However, instead of a drawing, one haunted-eyed little girl named Lucinda starts scribbling off a long ongoing series of numbers that covers both sides of the sheet.

Fast forward to 2009 and the capsule is being opened by a new generation of students. The list of numbers is given to Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), a slightly sickly young boy whose father is an MIT Physics Professor named John Koestler (played by Nicolas Cage) who has been way too overprotective of his son since his wife was killed in a hotel fire a year before.

At first Koestler – who is a no-nonsense scientist who believes nothing is pre-ordained – is certain that the page of numbers is gibberish. However, eventually he notices a pattern – the numbers list the dates of major disasters, the number of fatalities and the longitude and latitude of where they happened. He also realizes that there are three more dates left – all of which are coming up soon.

It’s a fascinating premise. Early scenes where Koestler tries futilely to change the future disasters are also disturbing and involve the two shocking special effects scenes I mentioned earlier.

However, this is where it all crashes and burns.

The problem is, the more we get to know of the numbers and the mysterious men lurking outside of Koestler’s home, the more preposterous the whole thing becomes. After such an interesting and original start, the script downshifts into a morass of sci-fi clichés. Eventually Knowing resorts to recycling old ideas and plot points from such movies as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, War of the Worlds, Signs and Contact.

By the end – an odd and under-explored utopian interlude in which two of our main characters are allowed a new start on life – the audience wishes that the movie as a whole could just start over. Only this time, hopefully it will find an ending that is worthier of its intriguing setup.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2009 All rights reserved. Posted: March 20, 2009.


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