Director: Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City)
Screenplay: Alex Proyas, Stuart Hazeldine, Ryne Douglas Pearson, Juliet Snowden, Stiles White, Richard Kelly
Producers: Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Alex Proyas, Steve Tisch
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 130 min.
It’s difficult, and a little sad to see the turns that Alex Proyas’ career has taken. It has taken him from one cult film to another and it seemed, on the surface at least, that 2004’s I, Robot could be the film to break him into mainstream popular culture while retaining his great director credibility. The markings were on the wall: the casting of Will Smith in the lead role and the grumblings of the studio mingling in the production raised a few red flags but no one was prepared for the travesty that was the adaptation. And so it seemed that Proyas might be finished. How long can two great films sustain a career?
It was only a matter of time before the director took on another project with a studio that would allow him his own vision and, hopefully, that vision would produce a great final product, but it’s fair to say that no one expected Knowing to be that film. Surprise!
Conceived by author Ryne Pearson and flushed out by a team of writers, the film stars Nicolas Cage as John Koestler a professor of astrophysics who finds himself in the middle of a mystery when his son brings home a sheet of paper covered in numbers which had been stored in a time capsule for 50 years. At first, the numbers don’t seem important but after a few drinks, anything is possible and the doctor thinks he sees a pattern in the numbers. A nigh-full of research later, he has a whiteboard full of circled numbers and a more questions than when he started circling. He’s come to the conclusion that some of the numbers mark the date and number of deaths of major tragedies to have occurred over the past fifty years and even a few that have yet to occur. It all sounds fantastic and yes, you do need to put your brain on a bit of autopilot here because the major plot points are not playing in the realms of reality but don’t fall asleep just yet. The good stuff is coming.
What makes Knowing such a fascinating film is that although the trailer sells it as a disaster film in the vein of The Day After Tomorrow, it’s a much more intricate and in some aspects, grand story. The trailer isn’t false advertising, everything happens the way it’s laid out but, like a good trailer should, it also doesn’t tell you the entire story and its what’s missing that makes the film interesting and what will ultimately doom it at the box office. The masses simply aren’t ready for this film; It’s not fluffy or happy enough for mass appeal and like Watchmen (our review) before it, it asks the viewer to use the brain, dig deep and search for answers to the big questions: is the world determined or do we make our own way? Do we matter to the universe? What is the meaning/power or religion? It’s all here. Some pretty big questions for a film being sold as a thrilling mystery.
Proyas, using digital cameras for the first time, takes full advantage of the freedom of movement allowed by the smaller cameras, effectively using it to put the viewer in the action, something he manages to do without making it feel like a gimmick; a flashy selling point. Though the effects of both the plane crash and later the subway crash don’t look quite as sharp as one would like, Proyas manages to make it work. Great credit for the success goes to the sound design team whose work shines in both of these scenes but also throughout the film. I had some issues with the score which is heavy handed at times but the sound design is spectacular.
As for the acting, there isn’t much to say. This isn’t Leaving Las Vegas Cage but it’s definitely a step up from his last few films. It helps that the film requires him to be in a state of shock for a large portion story but conveying emotion isn’t his strength and most of the scenes that require a little more nuance fall flat. This is also a problem of the script which feels bloated and lazy in places (particularly noticeable in a car scene where Koestler reveals some personal information). Rose Byrne is excellent in her small role and though her character isn’t as pivotal as I expected, it is to the film’s benefit that her character doesn’t fall into the stereotypical female sidekick.
There are some other problems with the film, most notably the final scene which takes away a little from the power of the ending. It will be interesting to see if that scene is included in a director’s cut as it feels like it was tacked by the studio to alleviate some of the bleakness of the previous scene.
It’s all very vague, I know but there’s good reason for that. Knowing is the type of film that works best when you don’t know what you’re walking into. In a few day’s time, once the film has passed the first few days, it’ll be a film prime for discussion and dissection. Until then, just know this: it’s not what you think it is. It’s much more.
Click “play” to see the trailer:
Flixster Profile for Knowing