2 July 2009

Movie Review: Knowing


B+

Knowing
2009, 121mins, PG-13
Director: Alex Proyas
Writer (s): Ryne Douglas Pearson, Juliet Snowdon, Stiles White
Cast includes: Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury, Lara Robinson, D.G Maloney
Release Date: 20th March 2009

Given his recent acting output it’s not especially hard to underestimate Nicolas Cage in the current cinematic climate, but exceedingly difficult to get excited about a motion picture he’s starring in. “Knowing” with it’s shockingly disinteresting title and lazy trailer looked like another sure fire clunker from the leading man who also took a similar position in “Ghost Rider” and 2006’s hysterically bad revamp of “The Wicker Man”. The shock is “Knowing” actually evolves into a thoroughly entertaining science fiction brew and asks a few probing question of the audience in the process. Nicolas Cage’s name now slightly less tarnished than it was before. I’m not yet ready to forgive him for the last five years of execrable projects but for now this is a step in the desirable direction.

A prologue set in 1959 opens the picture, the setting a classroom and the activity the creation of a time capsule. The children are all frantically drawing their galactic interpretations of the future but a disturbed young girl named Lucinda (Lara Robinson) has a different agenda. At the request of some whispering voices in her head she jots down a page filled with numbers and despite the scorn of her teachers, the sheet is placed within the capsule. It’s opened 50 years later and through his son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) the numerically packed scribbles find their way into the hands of scientist John (Nicolas Cage) who one whiskey fuelled night starts to see a sinister pattern in the digits. After careful study of the page he see’s the dates of every major global catastrophe of the last 50 years and the hefty fatalities which accompanied them. Amongst the code three more dates remain and in an effort to save lives he looks up the now deceased Lucinda’s daughter (Rose Byrne) for aid.

One of the aspects which allows “Knowing” to jump a cut above most of its genre peers is the fascinating idea at its core, the well aged debate of science vs. Religion. The film is primarily designed as a Hitchcockian thriller for the masses but a little scratching at it’s surface reveals a subtly posed question regarding the still raging conflict between scientific academia and bible bashing mania. It’s this that gives “Knowing” a more cerebral and thoughtful edge, sure it does the set-pieces fine, but I like a little brains with my buttery popcorn and “Knowing” is packing a surprisingly respectable IQ. The writers also manage to work in some really solid and believable character development and build realistic and non-artificial relationships between the various entities. Cage and Canterbury in particular are provided with a detailed and intricately layered bond as father and son. Again this allows “Knowing” to stand out from the crowd, it’s not lacking a human touch or an incentive to stay engaged throughout the carnage.

Cage does overact from time to time but anyone expecting less from the actor had best go home. His mannerisms remain a little exaggerated and during the finish he hams it up to beyond silly but in fairness during some of the most emotionally vital moments of “Knowing” he’s able to flash a little brilliance. Certainly in the wake of his turns in several high profile stinkers “Knowing” should be a major relief for the Oscar winner, proving that any hope of him returning to form isn’t utterly forgone. Rose Byrne is agreeable as his newfound and fairly reluctant helper but she’s upstaged somewhat by Canterbury playing Cage’s son. I really have no qualms about criticising child actors who hand in shoddy performances but Canterbury definitely doesn’t, it’s a mature and a rather refined effort and a key strength in allowing “Knowing” to agree so heartily with the audience.

The score by Marco Beltrami is bombastic but really rather cool whilst the visual design of the movie also boasts director Alex Proyas flair with interesting tones and lively sets. Proyas last helmed Will Smith in the overrated “I, Robot” and he’s maintained his sci-fi bent with “Knowing”, this time managing to nail the big questions with greater clarity and stage the effects heavy moments with stronger energy. The filmmaker should be proud, despite now more or less representing a veteran level of direction, he’s shown solid improvement. Maybe you can teach an old dog a new trick.

The film is staged around several CGI laden landmarks, disasters pending via the cryptic numerical fallen into our heroes hands. These are well handled and plugged for joyous adrenaline fuel whilst throughout the movie maintains credible levels of tension and suspenseful plotting. As a thriller “Knowing” is tight and well developed also providing characters that the audience actually care about. In creating such spectacle Proyas has done his film no harm but it’s the assured and sympathetic character work that makes “Knowing” a delightful surprise.

The conclusion in an oddity and off balance with the rest of the film, slightly souring the audience’s palate after having enjoyed such a shockingly sweet thrill ride. I can see what the creative team where attempting to do but ultimately they fumble it and the denouement just comes of as vaguely ridiculous. One could also argue that the silly climax is also visually overstated and hammered home with little regard for tact, only emphasising it’s unsatisfying nature further. In honesty it’s only really spoils the final ten minutes but it also keeps “Knowing” from the greatness it at times manages to caress and invite.

Overall this is good stuff and better than maybe it has any right to be, someone took time and care to ensure a polished script went through the works and the actual filmmakers have done a decent job of bringing it to the screen. In Nicolas Cage’s last five years it’s an unprecedented highlight even if it isn’t perfect and for those looking for a genuinely twisty and spooky thriller I’ve seen little better all year.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

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