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  • Movie: Knowing
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Starring: Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury, Lara Robinson, Nadia Townsend and D.G. Maloney
  • Written By: Ryne Pearson, Juliet Snowden and Stiles White
  • Directed By: Alex Proyas
  • Distributor: Summit Entertainment
  • Series:

KNOWING

You're Better Off Not

By Rob Vaux     March 20, 2009

 

There is a moment--we'll call it the Shyamalan Moment, in honor of its greatest practitioner--when you realize a given movie has completely left the rails. It only occurs when preceded by considerable potential, when a talented director has used his bag of tricks to snare us inexorably in his grasp. So intriguing is the set up and so fascinating are the questions it poses that we're willing to forgive a few bumps in the road. And when those bumps become something more serious--something that transforms all those good ideas into transcendently goofy nonsense--it takes a little while to sink in. Only during the Shyamalan Moment does the true extent of the damage become known. It's a wondrous revelation in its own way: we've shot for the moon and missed. Now there's nothing to do but enjoy the long trip down… and oh my is it steep.
 
Knowing's Shyamalan Moment comes with about thirty minutes left to go as star Nicholas Cage and co-star Rose Byrne scream at each other over the phone. The world may be coming to an end and cellular signals are supposed to be out of commission, yet here they are--all tearful and runny-nosed--hysterically going over their options. Cage, who can chew the scenery like nobody's business, has remained remarkably restrained up until this point. That stems in part from director Alex Proyas, who has the chops to keep him under wraps, and in part from Knowing's overall plot, which requires an eerie calm before this bombastic storm. Said eeriness--cunningly designed and effectively presented--becomes a baited hook, luring us in before hitting us with the forehead-slapping idiocy of the pay-off.
 
It starts out so promisingly. Fifty years ago, a time capsule was sealed at a Massachusetts elementary school containing drawings from the students depicting what they thought life would be like in the future. One little girl deposits something much different, however: a list of seemingly random numbers scrawled with feverish intensity on both sides of the page. When the capsule is opened in 2009, her letter goes to a young boy named Caleb Koestler (Chandler Canterbury), whose father--MIT astrophysicist John Koestler (Cage)--discovers a curious pattern in the numbers. Each one depicts the time and place of a major disaster over the past five decades, including the number of people who died. Three dates at the end of the list have yet to occur and while Koestler is initially skeptical about their implications, the preceding numbers simply don't lie.
 
The bulk of Knowing hinges around those final three dates: what they signify for the world and how that little girl could come up with them. Proyas gradually builds on the scenario's initial fascination, tinged with horrifying implications and the occasional punch-to-your-gut reveal that takes the breath away. Indeed, it's so compelling that the odd lapses in logic, niggling story questions and occasional appearance of gaunt men in black pass by without comment… at least initially. Those men in black have a purpose, of course, just as the niggling questions have answers that must wait for the end to arrive. In the meantime, Proyas stokes our anticipation through an apocalyptic atmosphere of foreboding and dread, aided by the browns and grays of DP Simon Duggan and a script which knows how to push our buttons just right.
 
But sooner or later, patience runs thin and the eventual pay-off needs to justify such an exquisitely suspenseful wait. Knowing has one, to be sure… but not only does it fail to match what has come before, but it reduces the proceedings to overheated farce so quickly and demonstrably that you can't quite believe it's happened. In the space of an instant, the entire plotline becomes an exercise in futility--rendered pointless and absurd from the get-go and matched by the jaw-dropping realization that the imbecility onscreen isn't part of some elaborate prank.
 
Not that that isn't fun in a twisted sort of way, but that fun stems far more from schadenfreude than admiration. When it fades, it leaves a feeling of sadness and deflation behind. Proyas has real talent, and good or bad, his films strive to grapple with big ideas. Knowing certainly has its share, some more subtle than the fate vs. free will debate which occupies much of its dialogue. But if the picture in totem can't hold water, then all the effort and hard work in the world won't matter. To quote a sage of our era, there's a fine line between stupid and clever. Knowing walks it well enough for a time, but the staggering totality with which it finally slips erases all memory of its better elements. There's nothing to do but shake your head in awestruck wonder: as much for its squandered beginning as for its truly ridiculous conclusion.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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Hobbs 3/20/2009 8:31:10 AM

I was still thinking about seeing this but even rotten toms has this at 25% last time I checked.

acidsquall73 3/20/2009 9:07:29 AM

I'm probably going to be a minority here, but I really liked the movie. I thought it had a great build up to the ending. There was a general theme throughout the movie that I thought was done very well. I won't go into what it was, but played with things I'm sure certain groups would find offensive in one way or another. The disaster scenes are first-rate and freaky as hell, particularly the plane crash. I can only imagine that would be how something like that would play out. I won't give anything away as far as the ending is concerned, but if you were to apply the ending to, say, Dark City with today's crowds, negative reaction would prevail because we don't think on levels like that anymore. We expect more down-to-earth things to happen. If we put that all away, we can enjoy it for what it is. All I'm saying is there's a bigger picture to the movie. I even looked at my friend afterwards and said people are going to hate that ending for the reason I just mentioned. Just my 2 cents. I hope some of you guys that see it will enjoy it as I did.

Wiseguy 3/20/2009 9:15:32 AM

I'm surprised by the review because it's Proyas but I knew there was something amiss when Cage was cast. I'll probably check it out anyway, I like to judge for myself. And now that you shot down my expectations I may actually enjoy it more for that alone.

fft5305 3/20/2009 9:52:58 AM

Good call, WISEGUY. Expectations are so important. Reading such a bad review can make the moviegoing experience so enjoyable, because expectations are so low. I hope that is the case, because this looked really good.

sportwarrior 3/20/2009 12:27:31 PM

I had absolutely no desire to see this movie...  but after reading the review I almost want to.  Sometimes a D review can do that... especially when much of it talks about how good the movie could have been sans 30 seconds or so.  If most of the movie is halfway decent, I'm curious to see just how big the cliff was off which the plot jumped...

gauleyboy420 3/20/2009 12:34:52 PM

I was indeifferent on this until recently I started to become interested.

I for one like Nic Cage, and it'sd obvious from Snarky Robs comment about cage chewing up the scene, that he's not a fan of Cage. Which Iwill propose is one reason Snark Boy didn't like the movie.

 

Secondly, Robs reviews have been consistenly LOWER than I (or most other objective reviewers) would give to a movie or TV show.

So based on this review, I'll probably check this flick out.

I ussually use the reviews of my fellow maniacs more than a "Proffesional" movie critic anyway. They are less jaded, more objective and real.

Hobbs 3/20/2009 1:10:09 PM

"I usually use the reviews of my fellow maniacs more than a "Proffesional" movie critic anyway. They are less jaded, more objective and real."

I agree gauley, so make sure you see it this weekend and give your two cents.  lol

I use Rotten Tomatoes as well. They seem to be as close as any critic. That's where my fear stems from for this movie.  25% has me debating.

hanso 3/20/2009 1:24:02 PM

Screw that, if you guys gonna check out a flick this weekend then it's gotta be I Love You Man!

darkheart00 3/20/2009 2:17:53 PM

Tis a sad day when I have to agree with seeing Paul Rudd over an Alex Proyas film.

A sad day indeed.

MrJawbreakingEquilibrium 3/20/2009 4:12:37 PM

I haven't seen this yet and I don't think I will but I hope to God that it isn't like my idea, for something I want to starty working on, about a man that can see angels commit acts like plane crashes, car accidents, natural disasters, etc. because of God's will - for a greater good or whatnot.  I plan on calling it Mysterious Ways or something like that.  You know God works in mysterioius ways?  Or how God let's everything happen for a reason and this guy start to rebel against the angels.  Turns out he's an angel, too.  If this turns out to be what those men in black are I'm going to be pissed.

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