Friday 18 September 2009

Knowing (2009)

Friday 18 September 2009
Spiritually, a Twilight Zone episode stretched to feature-length* (mostly via an unexpected amount of CGI catastrophe and apocalyptic imagery), Knowing is ridiculous yet cheerfully entertaining in how far it takes a high-concept idea that could have been tackled with half the bombast...

Nicolas Cage trots out another of his eccentric egghead characters with amusing hair, this one a widowed astrophysicist called John Koestler who is bringing up his young son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) single-handed. Caleb's school ceremonially unearth a time-capsule buried 50 years ago, containing drawn predictions of the future from the class of 1959 -- one of which, scrawled by oddball Lucinda Embry (Lara Robinson), is just a page of "random" numbers. Of course, John later realizes the digits are actually dates, and that each one has predicted a major world disaster and the fatalities involved over the past five decades. The kicker is: there are three predicted disasters yet to occur, and John starts to suspect they could all be leading to Armageddon. But if that's true, can he change the future?

Knowing isn't a great film, but it's surprisingly easy to be swept along by its sheer enthusiasm and collective potency, as Alex Proyas deftly avoids the trap that tripped Joel Schumacher's numerology thriller The Number 23, ensuring boredom never sets in with a stream of beautifully-crafted sequences -- particularly a thunderous plane crash, seemingly captured in one continuous shot, that feels like a bleary concussion. Adding another colour to the palette are a group of ethereal men who start approaching Caleb to show him visions of forest fires and a burning stag, the pallid clique evoking memories of The Strangers from Proyas' own Dark City.

It's a mixture of other films that becomes more than the sum of its parts through pure strength of will and a strange conviction in its pulp sci-fi material. Cage is certainly better here than he's been in awhile, and Proyas manages to keep your interest by virtue of the fact the script grows increasingly insane and climaxes in a manner both bleak and amusingly ostentatious. By Act III, I was helplessly charmed by its silly B-movie plot, which refused to relax its grip and dragged me with a giddy smile across the finish line to its New Age denouement.

Knowing certainly does't linger in the memory, or have anything very insightful to say about free will and determinism (although it flirts with such concepts in an early classroom scene), but it's an effective popcorn flick that's not to be taken seriously and, thanks primarily to a talented director pulling its strings, overcomes its conceptual flaws to provide two-hours of easily-digestible entertainment.

directed by: Alex Proyas written by: Stuart Hazeldine, Juliet Snowden & Stiles White starring: Nicolas Cage (Prof. John Koestler), Chandler Canterbury (Caleb Koestler), Rose Byrne (Diana Wayland), Lara Robinson (Lucinda Embry/Abby Wayland), Nadia Townsend (Grace Koestler), Ben Mendelsohn (Prof. Phil Beckman), Alan Hopgood (Rev. Koestler), Adrienne Pickering (Allison Koestler), Danielle Carter (Miss Taylor, 1959) & Alethea McGrath (Miss Taylor, 2009) / Summit Entertainment / 121 mins. / $50 million (budget) /

* I doubt it's coincidence that the script started life on Richard Kelly's laptop, who has now written and directed The Box, itself based on a Richard Matheson short-story later adapted for a Twilight Zone. It's fun to guess which elements of Kelly's draft survived rewrites, actually.