Nicolas Cage, Chandler Canterbury, Rose Byrne, Lara Robinson, D.G.
Maloney, Nadia Townsend
2009, 122 Minutes, Directed by: Alex Proyas
I, Robot was a massive money-maker for all
participants involved, I don’t know of anyone who exited the theater
ecstatic with the results. Well, director Alex Proyas is back on the sci-fi
chain gang, this time tackling the apocalyptic thriller Knowing. A
broad, leisurely jumble of Alfred Hitchcock-style suspense architecture and
a dreary, paint-by-numbers Sci-Fi Channel Original, Knowing only
seems to extract two reactions: nail-biting and eye-rolling. Proyas
misjudges the material to both frightening and face palm results, leaving
Knowing a frothy brew of pleasing chaos and absolute absurdity.
Dealing with the heavy psychological burden of spousal loss, MIT professor
John (Nicolas Cage) watches over his young son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury)
carefully, protecting him from life’s social demands. To commemorate the
unearthing of an elementary school time capsule buried 50 years earlier,
each child is handed a drawing from the tube to study. Caleb is entrusted
with a sheet of seemingly random numbers composed by a disturbed girl,
triggering John’s curiosity. Figuring the numbers to be a cryptogram that
has successfully predicted the world’s worst disasters for five decades,
John sets out to prevent the last three codes on the paper from realization.
Trying to save lives while seeking out the author’s offspring (Rose Byrne)
for answers, John races against the clock to prevent a worldwide disaster
from becoming a reality.
While I walked out of Knowing semi-disgusted with the film and with
Proyas’s shallow bag of tricks, I will readily admit that the feature shares
a few wonderful moments of unpolluted suspense. Clearly motivated by
Hitchcock’s distinguished timing, Proyas finds amazing inspiration within
the picture’s disaster set pieces, in which John’s frantic decoding takes
him to the sites of plane crashes and subway collisions - events he’s
attempting to prevent.
"Knowing is 40% greatness and 60% hot air!"
Proyas, ever the meticulous visual stylist, knows how to the twirl the
tension knobs with skilful camerawork and a blaring Herrmannesque score from
composer Marco Beltrami to accompany the havoc. The scenes connect, even
with a few special effect blunders (John can apparently walk through fire
unscathed), because they plug directly into the film’s cracking premise as a
chest-tightening disaster film. The ingenious ticking clock here is the code
sheet, making Knowing a startlingly tight thriller when it boils down
to the essentials of John identifying patterns and racing to save the day.
Sure, plot holes and drastic leaps of logic swarm the picture, but all that
can be forgiven when the film snaps to attention. Knowing has a few
of those superlative moments.
However, Knowing also hungers to be a sci-fi extravaganza, populating
the second half of the film with shadowy whisper people and reoccurring
symbols of otherworldly recognition. To write that Knowing lost me
with this detour is an understatement; the film positively croaks reaching
for a more philosophical conclusion, seemingly embarrassed with the
exhilarating coding clockwork that’s come before. Proyas has always fumbled
plot mechanics in his previous efforts, and Knowing is not immune to
the director’s butterfingers. What easily could’ve been a tight, swell
80-minute-long joyride of a motion picture is flooded to 120 cumbersome
minutes, force-feeding a frenzied climax that doesn’t fit the tone of movie
at all. To spotlight more of the script’s screwy direction would be
sprinting into spoiler territory, so I’ll leave it dangle here. Suffice it
to say, Knowing should’ve left well enough alone. To fatten the
experience just to play to Hollywood blockbuster rules dilutes the tension
and humiliates the cast.
Proyas attempts to sand down the blunt ends using Beethoven’s mournful
Symphony No. 7 and an unrealistically redemptive ending, but it can’t
cover the mistakes of the final product, which reaches further into lunacy
with a masturbatory staging of a Roland Emmerich-style mass destruction
derby to please the nervous executives. Knowing is 40% greatness and
60% hot air, which is especially maddening when, for a moment or two at
least, the movie was perfect.
- Brian Orndorf