*I know I've been kind of slacking off lately what with the single review last week and nothing this past weekend and to top it off I'm posting an old review today, but I will definitely make it up this weekend. Even if I don't get to see a new movie (Bruno, most likely, though I am on the lookout for The Hurt Locker and The Brothers Bloom), I will still write up some reviews from recent DVD releases or even some much older films (I'm thinking something from Kurosawa) and I'll get a Crappy Classic in there as well (though some might consider today's review of Knowing as a Crappy Classic). And I will have a new article by this time next week.
Now, this review is old because I wrote it for the Perry County News and I was trying to keep things separate between the paper and the site at the time. I have since abandoned that idea, so I decided to add this review to the site (with some additions) since the DVD was released this week.
Knowing - Directed by Alex Proyas, starring Nicolas Cage and Rose Byrne, rated PG-13
Even with the bad acting, this visually jarring sci-fi film really struck a chord with me. And Chigurh enjoys disaster sequences.
Knowing, the latest film from Alex Proyas (The Crow, I, Robot) almost delves into M. Night Shyamalan territory (it does feature a main character much like Mel Gibson’s character from Signs) but it saves itself with an entertaining science fiction plot and some of the best disaster sequences I have ever seen.
The story starts off in an elementary school in 1959 with a class drawing pictures of what the future might look like for a time capsule. But one troubled girl, Lucinda, writes a series of mysterious numbers instead. Cut to the present when John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) obtains the paper from his son. Koestler discovers that the numbers are actually dates and death tolls of disasters from 1959 to the present, save for three more events that Koestler must investigate and, of course, see for himself.
Koestler has to see the events so that we, the audience, can witness them as well. Proyas could’ve cut to these events and have Koestler watch them on the news, but by placing the character in the events, it adds a bit of realism to each event. I don’t want to give away what the disasters are since the shock of the first one is so great, but I will say that Proyas knows how to handle a massive, CG-filled catastrophe. He uses quick zooms and a shaking effect that allows the viewer to see everything clearly, but not focus on it enough to see the rough edges of computer effects. It also helps that the sound becomes blaring at each event, adding to the chaos of it.
The disasters themselves are enough to warrant the price of admission for this film and that’s important because this film features some awful acting and plenty of awkward dialogue. Cage does a good job of looking completely dumbstruck during the action scenes, but he’s useless when it comes to showing emotion. The character is supposed to be disconnected due to the death of his wife, but Cage takes it too far. Koestler’s son is supposed to be extremely important to him, but Cage makes each scene between father and son so awkward that you never get the sense that these two even know each other. And the alcoholic aspect of his character was unnecessary, unless it was placed there to use as an excuse for Cage being so wooden in each scene. When you throw Rose Byrne into the mix as Lucinda’s daughter it gets bad…The Happening bad. Byrne, who does a great job in her TV series Damages, is miscast here. She is even less convincing than Cage when it comes to parenting and when she starts yelling in the third act she becomes laughably bad.
The finale of this film might rub people the wrong way as well. It turns into a full bore science-fiction film with biblical connotations in the end and those elements were not necessarily there in the first two acts. There are hints to it, of course, like Koestler’s lack of faith and the mysterious people that stand in the background of many scenes and seem to be stalking Koestler and his son, but I think some people will be surprised with how far into the sci-fi genre this movie goes. I liked it, though. Proyas, who also directed the excellent Dark City (check it out if you haven’t seen it, and keep in mind that it came out before The Matrix) can make some truly thought-provoking sci-fi. The ending is different and interesting, which is something that is lacking in a lot of film endings today.
Knowing has its flaws. The acting is abysmal at times and the score can be a bit overwhelming, though that is probably because Proyas realized that he needed musical cues to tell the audience how to feel because the actors couldn’t convey it. But those problems are dwarfed by the amazing visuals during the multiple disaster sequences and the interesting sci-fi conclusion. So struggle past the acting, because Proyas more than makes up for it in action and story.
Now for my additions upon watching the film on DVD: I still feel pretty much the same about this movie and I actually like it more now that I've seen it again. Cage and Byrne are still bad, but after that first viewing I guess I got used to their bad acting and it didn't stick out to me as much as before, but it's still pretty bad. My main concern was whether or not the CG in the disaster sequences would hold up. I saw this the first time in a non-digital theater, which helps CG out at times. (I can recall being amazed by the Neo vs. hundreds of Smith fight in The Matrix Reloaded when I saw it in the theater, but when I saw it on DVD it looked like a cartoon.) The CG is a bit more apparent on DVD, but it didn't ruin anything for me. The first disaster I mention above (which is a plane crash and is in no way a spoiler anymore since previews for the DVD show and nearly every promotional picture I can find shows Cage standing in front of a crashed plane) is still great and if you have a decent speaker system it's downright awesome. Not sure why I didn't mention it the first time, but that plane crash scene is effective not only because of the shaky camera and everything, but also because it's one long take, which is odd to see when massive CG is involved. It's a jarring scene and makes this film worth a rental at least.
I mention near the end that the music is overwhelming at times in the original review. I don't know what I was talking about now. The score has this old school sci-fi sound to it that completely worked for me. Maybe they just cranked up the volume in the theater or something the first time I saw it, but it certainly didn't overwhelm me this time around.
I want to get into SPOILER territory here to discuss some of the vague sci-fi/biblical elements mentioned in the original review. This movie basically takes a turn into Christian belief when the children are taken to a new planet at the end (by "strangers" who happen to have what look like angel's wings) and set up in an Adam and Eve type situation. This is because the world actually ends. So even though the previews promised some a Day After Tomorrow type disaster movie, the viewer actually got a religion fueled science fiction revelations story. That is very interesting to me. What's most interesting, though, is that people see this ending differently than I do. The commentary track with the director hammers this home as a moderator asks many questions assuming the same things that I do and Proyas completely disagrees with the guy (for the record, Proyas sounds pretty much like a jerk throughout the commentary). I have listened to podcasts and read other reviews that have different ideas for this film as well. That shows me that this film, with all its flaws, requires a bit of thought and that is what good sci-fi is all about with or without the religious aspect.
(continued SPOILERS) I also enjoyed the end of the world scene in which Cage drives through the hectic and decimated city set to Beethoven's 7th Symphony. And seeing the entire world basically catch on fire was pretty cool as well.