Review: Knowing

Knowing One Sheet

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?

Knowing Movie StillIt 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.


Knowing Movie StillWhat 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.

Knowing Movie StillAs 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:


Links:
IMDb profile
Official Site
Flixster Profile for Knowing

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Eaglewing
Guest

Nice review. I may have to give this one a chance. From the trailer I was getting a Next vibe or something, and a quick clip of the subway crash I saw looked like really bad CGI, but I can put up with that if there's a good story with some depth going on. Hmmm, now I'm getting curious what it's all about…

ralph
Guest

this is a surprise. Nic Cage has become such a joke, although Alex Proyas seems to be a great mind… he just needs to be freed from the constraints of the studio. I Robot was a mess. from the trailer, this didn't look much better, but i won't completely overlook this when it comes out.

Kurt
Guest

It's hilarious that all those stills in the review look like they could have been out of a NATIONAL TREASURE film. Somewhere I think I like Alex Proyas as a director, but I've not seen a film of his since Dark City over a decade ago.

I may give this one a shot on DVD at some point, but Duplicity look like way more fun this weekend.

lee
Guest

Got to agree with ralph on all counts but I'm very interested now. How great going to the movies to a blockbuster, and everything that is intersting aint in the trailer.

Andrew James
Admin

It is mainstream movie week for me. This and Duplicity are both on my list. After I check it out, I will return. I'll say that if Marina liked it, there's a good chance I will too.

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

OK, you are convincing me, Marina.

CaliforniaSuperLotte
Guest

now I really want to see it!

Andrew James
Admin

Per usual, Marina is spot on. This is the movie Shyamalan wishes he could make. I *really* liked this movie a lot. The review is nearly exactly what I would say. Your description of Cage is right on and not knowing the details of this story are important. The trailer gives nothing away.

I disagree about the score. Yes, it's heavy handed but that's exactly what I liked about it; it was Psycho Hitchcockian music.

I also disagree about the final scene. It reminds me of another film we've talked about here as of recent (if you've seen both movies, you know exactly what I mean). I loved the shot. There's also a shot near the end in which Cage is laying down. It was gorgeous.

It does seem to take its time, but once it gets going its pretty damn great. Again: in your dreams Shyamalan.

John Allison
Editor

I enjoyed the majority of the movie. I thought it was fairly smart but I’m the opposite of Andrew. I thought everything after Cage laid down was complete drivel that was just there to explain everything because the movie felt the audience wasn’t smart enough to understand what was going on.

Andrew James
Admin

I guess I just like the look of it.

I just finished the FilmJunk show where Jay rips this movie apart. The thing is, he’s right. The movie is so full of bullshit and some of the acting is literally head-shakingly bad. But I overlooked all that stuff and really got into the parts that work – because they work well. The creepy parts are very creepy and hair raising. The mystery is sort of interesting and being an Astronomy major, that aspect of the film intrigued me as well. So yeah, I liked the movie a lot but probably wouldn’t watch it again because I might nit-pick it to death.

Marina
Guest

******SPOILER ALERT******************
******SPOILER ALERT******************
******SPOILER ALERT******************
******SPOILER ALERT******************
******SPOILER ALERT******************

I didn’t have issues with the final scene with Cage saying goodbye to the kids or even his return to the city to see his parents. I thought the destruction was phenomenal and Proyas’ isn’t the first to create an end-of-world scenario but his feels really genuine. Yes, it borrows heavily from “Blindness” and even “Cloverfield” but I loved the way it was shot. What I had problems with was the postscript with the kids on the new planet. I didn’t find that helped the story any and if anything, it took away from the power of the ending where Proyas destroys the world.

I too listened to the FilmJunk review and agree that a lot of what Jay picks at is valid but I was invested enough in the story to overlook it. I’m actually looking forward to seeing it again.

John Allison
Editor

******SPOILER ALERT******************
******SPOILER ALERT******************
******SPOILER ALERT******************
******SPOILER ALERT******************
******SPOILER ALERT******************

The special effects were good in the end but it all just felt unnecessary. He had already made peace with his father so it wasn’t needed. If anyone hadn’t figured out that the kids were going to a different planet then they really weren’t watching the movie. My close would have been Cage laying down and closing his eyes. If you want the big effects then have the wave come and start wiping out the forest and slowly move its way to the cities and then zoom out showing the world burning.

John Allison
Editor

******SPOILER ALERT******************
******SPOILER ALERT******************
******SPOILER ALERT******************
******SPOILER ALERT******************
******SPOILER ALERT******************

I took his father’s comments not to be a dismissal or anything of the sort It was more just that he was comfortable with his place in the world and that he was content with the fact that the world was going to end if such was the case. Perhaps I’m giving him too much knowledge and understanding.

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

***Some Spoilers Below, but hey, Proyas, your film sucked.***

I haven’t seen a movie so willfully stupid and full of itself since, The Happening. No Wait a minute, Signs. No wait a minute, The Core, no wait a minute, The Day After Tomorrow, no wait a minute Independence Day.

There is a small essay on what makes THE HAPPENING good and KNOWING awful, despite the incredible similarities in the small details of this picture.

People actually liked this movie?

1. It is painful collection of movie cliches (from the precocious kid to the room of newspaper clippings to the crazy-person compulsively scribbling to the main character having a ‘bonding gesture with their kid’ used for cheap emotional theatrics at the end). These thrown at the screen like with a yawn-worthiness not seen since…well read above.
2. Close Encounters of the Third Kind this is not. E.T. This is Not. Hell, The Lost World, this is not.
3. There is no consistent or compelling atmosphere in the film, its a connect the dots from beginning to end, and the final picture is clumsy at best.
4. I’ll take THE QUIET EARTH for out-there-final-images.
5. Is this a reject script from Cloud 10 pictures that accidentally found a Blockbuster budget? The biblical stuff was shoehorned in at best.
6. The use of that Beethoven piece, twice in the picture. The Movie doesn’t deserve to waste such a great musical number (sure the Kid in the flick was partly deaf, but still…). More Worthy is the ZARDOZ trailer

7. Bad Fire CGI, why do they still do this?
8. The film could have been something with a less-is-more-philosophy. Rigorously showing the disasters, the being flame-out, etc. undercuts most of the story.
9. Nitpick#1: How exactly will everything survive in an Alien Ecosystem? I guess we just take it that the kids arrive in EDEN, and the next war will be fought with apples and snakes, some-time in the near future.
10. Nitpick#2: Does the numbers predict the body counts in the news, or the actual body counts, I imagine in most of those disasters we wouldn’t really get an accurate body count. Minor, but then, these types of ‘NUMBERS – MEAN SOMETHING’ movies usually suck as bad as this one.
11. Nitpick#3: How can Cage drive his huge Truck through the carnage of NYC? As Ludicrous as the last 5 minutes of War of the Worlds. In fact, much of this film felt like very cheap hackery of Spielberg Alien pictures, from ET & Close Encounters to A.I. and WotW. Even Spielberg at his worst was miles above this.

Given, I’ve not seen an Alex Proyas film since DARK CITY in 1998 – I skipped Garage Days & I, Robot, but the dude has really lost it with this one. Knowing lacks the majesty of DC for sure, even it it occasionally borrows some of the imagery.

Should be a fun cinecast tomorrow Andrew.

Marina Antunes
Guest

Roll out the big guns; this will get ugly.

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

I still haven't got to THE FALL. I really should.

Is the FALL's use of the music a direct reference to ZARDOZ? The two films seem similar in round-about ways, particularly the fabulously off-the-wall production design.

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

@ Marina: Is this really gutsy filmmaking? The amount of Audience hand-holding is at NATIONAL TREASURE, DOUBLE JEOPARDY, UNTRACABLE levels.

Yes, I just compared Alex Proyas to Gregory Hoblit. Actually, FREQUENCY would probably be a better comparison…

Jay C.
Guest

The question that boggles my mind the most is…why bother with all of the fucking numbers?? Why be so cryptic? Just send the final date and get that shit done with!

Andrew James
Admin

Because who would believe it? If you got a random letter with some date on it that says, "the world is going to explode," what would you do? Probably throw it away and be pissed you didn't get a picture. But when the dates show a pattern, then that final date is going to get your attention – and you can make movie.

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

Andrew, on your last comment. I smell re-shoots for more hand-holding in that scene. Maybe.

Jonathan
Admin

Matt Gamble
Guest

How many other mainstream blockbuster films go in and kill everyone off?

Well Knowing didn't either, so I fail to see the "gutsiness". Its no different then any other disaster flick. And the film definitely advertised itself as a huge disaster flick, and what with the Earth being on fire in the poster that is kind of a big hint. Which is yet another example of blatant hand holding by the studio.

As for the music, it isn't a direct reference to Zardoz in The Fall, but I wouldn't be surprised if Tarsem is influenced by John Boorman.

Andrew James
Admin

I thought the earth on fire in the poster was more of a metaphor. Apparently not. Good on ya for being able to decipher Hollywood's master marketing scheme.

Matt Gamble
Guest

Its in the trailer as well.

If you can't put those two things together its no wonder you were amazed by Knowing. 🙂

Andrew James
Admin

Amazed?

Anyway, yeah I thought this was going to be more like a cross between Jim Carrey in "23" and "Dante's Peak."

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

Blockbusters which 'wiped out most of earth':

The Happening, War of the Worlds, The Day After (ok, TV movie, but a blockbuster TV movie), The Day After Tomorrow, Romero's Dead films, I Am Legend.

Sure, most of these were at the beginning of the film to set the premise, but 'wiping out the world' in a special effects extravaganza is not 'gutsy' in my book.

Matt Gamble
Guest

The final scene ties all the religious themes together, I don't know how you could then infer that it must have been tacked on. Its classic Hollywood film making.

BTW Children of Men kills everyone, only it leaves the ending open ended so that one can decide for themselves if the world is saved or destroyed.

The Mist kills everyone as well, and its final reveal actually darkens the film rather then provides a cheesy religious lifeline for the slack jawwed yokels to suckle on.

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

*Slaps Forehead*

Matt, very good point. It seems like the 'religious' theme comes in and out of the picture, but yea, it is certainly the driving narrative: Faith. Which made me think of this film a lot like SIGNS, although Signs had the good sense to underplay things. Well, they both mess up their endings with goofiness.

I'm sure someone with darker vision (heck Proyas circa 1997) could have not 'Untracabled' this movie. Essentially the driving story, from small details to the big 'world altering' reveal at the end is a very similar framework to Dark City, and DC does it 1000x better, probably for sticking more the genre-atmosphere and less to 'dad saves child' and 'dad sorts out relationship/family problems' – man did that part of the story feel FORCED.

Matt Gamble
Guest

The scene on the new planet? I didn’t think that tied any of the religious bits together.

It shows the aliens (angels) depositing children (Adam and Eve) in a new planet (Garden of Eden) with a giant tree (of life or knowledge) while carrying the bunnies that literally are fruitful and multiply.

The rest of the film is all about faith and if something exists after death, and that final scene LITERALLY shows that yes, there is a place after the Earth dies. And just to make sure you get the final scene, the film also makes sure to include some quick dialogue between Cage (Atheist) and his father (Priest) where they discuss their faith in the "afterlife" that sets up the final reveal.

Matt Gamble
Guest

it’s completely unnecessary.

I couldn't have summed up Knowing better myself Marina!

Jay C.
Guest

"Because who would believe it? If you got a random letter with some date on it that says, “the world is going to explode,” what would you do? Probably throw it away and be pissed you didn’t get a picture. But when the dates show a pattern, then that final date is going to get your attention – and you can make movie."

I think you're right in that the only reason for all of that decoding to happen is so they can make a movie.

There's many times I can accept that; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles requires the idea of walking, talking turtles. But with Knowing…it wasn't the code itself that was flawed. It was the answer to the code. The way the resolution carried itself through. Why didn't these 'angels' simply tell the kids? What the fuck did they spend all of their time 'whispering' about? (Screenwriting trick #145: they whisper to a kid who has a hearing problem. DEEP.) For that matter, why didn't they whisper to Nicolas Cage?

"Because who would believe it?"

Well they certainly didn't avoid making a grand entrance with their GIANT spaceships. That might have helped out their cause in convincing people who they are and what their intentions are.

Oh, and their 'Garden of Eden'. Did they manage two snatch up two of every race? Cuz all I'm seeing is two white kids running towards a giant tree. Also, why does the wheat have to be alien? Why can't it just be fucking wheat? The tree is a tree!

Knowing asked me to make too many leaps of faith/realism/logic. This might have been forgivable if the context and tone were appropriate (see Lady in the Water) but this movie just takes itself too seriously to allow such ridiculous things to simply slip by. This is 'Scriptwriting for Dummies'.

Seriously. The hand gesture? The little gift that he never opens until the final moment? Fluff. Was this written by Donald Kaufman?

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

Which is why MIRACLE MILE is a much better film than KNOWING. Yes, I'm trying to rile Andrew up, but I do believe that.

Matt Gamble
Guest

***SPOILER ALERT – THE MOVIE SUCKS***

The music is used better in The Fall as well.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EeAyIQ_OT_I

As for the alien planet, it seemed pretty heavy handed to me that it was showing The Tree of Life while the bunnies were an incredibly clumsy reference to “Be fruitful and multiply”. You know, because they fuck a lot.

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

More M.Night comparisons. I'm surprised that this thread isn't at 200 comments.

Andrew James
Admin

Yeah, I think this movie is very Shyamalan-ish. The best comparison is probably "The Happening." Which I also liked.

Jonny T.
Guest

SPOILER ALERT

SPOILER ALERT

SPOILER ALERT

I just think that "Knowing", though it got off to a rough start, was actually suprisingly intense and riveting. My heart was actually pounding throughout the last 30 minutes of the film. It was creepy, suspenseful, and very intense. I also thought that all of the disasters were intense but also seemed realistic. I swear that plane crash, i was just like "Whoa!!!" it felt so crazy, and just to see those people on fire and stuff just made it even more crazy. I think this goes up there with one of the best disaster films ever made. ANd i also think it was great that the world did end, and not get close and not end like most disaster films do, which sucks. I think that the big firey finish was a really good way to kill everyone in the end too, better than the world just blowing up. The things that didnt work for me were the beginning scenes, they seemed so fake, and the fact that Nicolas cage just took the paper and randomly founf the 9/11 coordinate and wrote it on a board as if he already knew what it meant. I also thought that the father son relationship didnt work, the kid wasnt very believable. I also wish they couldve ended with just the end of the earth and not all that stuff on the other planet, it just seemed so unfitting. The aliens seemed out of it too, but at least it helped the plot a little better. All in all, i really enjoyed it and i wish i could see it again! **** (4 stars!)