Film Review: Knowing
Directed by: Alex Proyas
121 Min. Feature Film, 2009
The recent wave of apocalyptic, disaster films is a troubling sign of the times. The big budget, Blockbuster trend began with Independence Day (menacing aliens), followed by the geological heavy duet Dante’s Peak/Volcano (menacing magma), accelerated to its own genre with Michael Bay’s Armageddon (menacing asteroid), continued on with The Day After Tomorrow (menacing global warming), and has even made it’s way to the animated film realm with last year’s perfectly crafted Wall-E (menacing human nature). With the recent release of Knowing, yet another flawed Nicolas Cage vehicle, this trend seems to still be chugging along, now adding a biblical sci-fi element to the blend.
Cage, whose career has been on a downward spiral since his first venture as an action leading man in The Rock, stars as John Koestler, a seemingly brilliant MIT professor and astrophysicist (hardly a stretch for the man who once swapped faces with John Travolta). His wife recently died in a freak hotel fire, leaving him alone to raise his son and keep from succumbing to his growing alcoholism (post Leaving Las Vegas, the bottle seems to be Cage’s go-to channel for droopy-eyed dramatic tension). In the classroom he is struggling with his theories on the randomness of world events. With his family he has given up on faith and religion, as seen through an underdeveloped plot element regarding his preacher father.
One day his son brings home a series of numbers scribbled on a note that had been locked away in a school time capsule for 50 years. When the random digits eventual uncover a series of dates, time, and location points for some of the most horrific fatal disasters of the past (and present), Koestler tries desperately to warn the world of what he knows while also trying to unearth the why behind the numbers’ existence.
While the events leading up to Koestler’s discovery of the digits’ secret –the eerie girl who pens the list and hears whispers–create a level of intrigue, the film ultimately takes a turn for the worse when Cage, the action star, enters the picture to prevent the inevitable and ultimately save the world.
To this end Knowing’s greatest fault is that it is two films wrapped in one collective flaw. The first half begins as a fairly unique tale of theological premonitions, mathematics, the curse of natural sciences, and even a possibly supernatural suspense element. When the film’s big budget special effects come into play (less so with a pretty remarkable plane crash), the film shifts its gears from the thinking man’s film to what could essentially be viewed as disaster porn (the grisly Final Destination triptych would also fit comfortably in this subgenre).
Towards its unexpected but silly finale the film borrows elements from the brilliant Danny Boyle sci-fi flickSunshine, which also dealt with the eminent threat from our Solar systems biggest nuclear weapon, the sun. Eventually Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind gets its possibly unintentional nod and wink, and the film goes from original to passé.
Director Alex Proyas was once one of the more fascinating under-the-radar filmmakers working in, or rather, outside of the mainstream. Starting out in music videos, Proyas first jumped on the scene with the dark comic noir film The Crow, a genre classic that has somehow managed to age rather well over the years. His masterpiece, 1998s Dark City, was a one of a kind surreal sci-fi classic, paving the road for a promising future. Even early on Knowing features some familiar stylistic elements from Proyas’ inspired past, most notably with the mysterious ‘Whisper People,’ who, like ‘The Strangers’ antagonists in Dark City, wander the night with hauntingly pale faces.
Sadly the film’s CGI heavy latter half, most notably the uninspired eminent apocalypse, more closely follows Proyas’ underwhelming pseudo film adaptation of Issac Asmiov’s I, Robot.
Knowing is yet another forgettable disaster blockbuster that is all flash and no substance, even when it tries. The film is also another forgettable addition to Cage’s mounting gamut of mediocrity. With the upcoming Hollywoodization of the 2012 doomsday lore, Knowing certainly won’t be the last piece of entertainment depicting the bleak end of the world.