2009 | Director: Alex Proyas | Writers: Alex Proyas and a couple of other guys
Generally, ambition is not a bad thing. In our society there’s a sort of honor attached to shooting for the moon and failing; we are encouraged to have big dreams and to try hard to enact them, no matter the outcome. Director Alex Proyas (“The Crow”) has made a career out of this sentiment, having several hit-or-miss genre exercises under his belt, with each film either dully making money (“I, Robot”) or pleasing critics (“Dark City”), but never both. I’m not sure that “Knowing,” Proyas’ newest, will do either, but it sets an ambivalent new standard for the filmmaker, in that it’s wildly stupid, yet so audacious in scope and imagination that it’s hard not to be entertained. It may not be a move up, but it’s a move somewhere.
In a role sadly typical for the once-respectable actor, Nicolas Cage plays John, a bitterly alcoholic, atheistic, MIT astrophysicist widower (aren’t they all?) whose blank-faced son, Caleb, receives a note left by a crazy half-albino girl 50 years previous when his class opens a time capsule with the old students’ “visions of the future” packed inside. The note is nothing but a series of numbers covering the whole page, leading John to figure out, using the combined powers of his scientific mind and booze, that the numbers show every major human disaster of the last half-century, complete with dates, the numbers of the dead, and coordinates. When he finds three sets of numbers left, John begins to worry that the end of the page means the end of the world. Meanwhile, Caleb begins to hear odd whispers and see creepy, pedophilic men in trench coats at every turn.
Part of the problem is the low level of intelligence expected of the audience. Scientist John and his scientist friend repeatedly make jokes about being scientists, issue sad remarks about their scientific minds not being able to scientifically wrap around the seemingly non-scientific events of the film, and most frustratingly, insist upon using the word “science” ad infinitum instead of describing their individual fields. It may be that Proyas and his co-screenwriters are making a comment upon the idol of science having supplanted any other Diety of true faith in our technological age, but I like to think they simply expected that pot-heads and 14-year-old kids playing hooky were their prime demographic.
Making up for everything, at least in my mind, are the fantastically-executed disaster scenes—mind-blowing moments of technical wizardry upheld by Proyas’ considerable talent for creating tension through editing. It truly is an edge-of-your-seat film, despite the ridiculous plot and Shakespeare in the Park-level acting, even through the oddest ending of any big-budget film in years. It’s all a testament to Proyas’ epic goals, and though they are not met by a wide margin, at least by critical standards, there is enough in “Knowing” to keep one interested, if not thoroughly excited, through many of its off-kilter beats. The movie might be more failure than fun, but it’s hard to blame Proyas for shooting for the moon.
Rating: Three of Five Stars