“Great. Now, Nicolas Cage is coming inside. I told you to lock the door!”

Theatrical Release Date: 03/20/09
Director: Alex Proyas
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Chandler Canterbury, Rose Byrne, Lara Robinson

If anyone saw “Next“, first of all I offer my condolences. Second, it probably didn’t give you much reason to think that Nic Cage’s subsequent attempt to stop some horrible catastrophe from happening in “Knowing” would be much better. And as much as it pains me to say it … there’s actually something to this film and it might be something you’d spend some of that hard earned cash on.

First off, it’s from director Alex Proyas who has always managed to create a unique tone and visual style – whether that’s in “The Crow”, “Dark City” or even “I, Robot” (Will Smith domineered that effort so don’t take it out on Proyas completely). Also, it’s got Rose Byrne in it. Sure, she’s easy on the eyes but she’s also skillfully chosen her projects lately, generally going for fare that’s a bit on the dark side and allows for a lot of creativity from the actors and filmmakers (“28 Weeks Later“, “Sunshine“).

And for fans of “Dark City”, there are a number of similarities going on here. I can’t say too much because a large part of the charm to “Knowing” is seeing just how far down the rabbit hole the audience is going to be taken. However, what I can say is that the film is creepy, creating a number of moments that had me cringing and ready to jump at the slightest hint of trouble. To that end, I should say that although this film gets a PG-13 rating, I really would make sure to identify just exactly which thirteen year-old is giving this a shot. Between some of the disaster footage and the silent, “whisper people”, this probably would have given me nightmares as a child.

While I can’t say much about the plot, regarding that point I do want to commend the folks responsible for putting the trailer together because although you’ll have the gist of things going on, the darker elements are left off the table and it was nice to be surprised by that facet of the film. Having done no research prior to the screening, I didn’t even realize Proyas was behind the effort until the opening credits and from the first scene, his unique brand of storytelling was evident and welcome.

As expected, the special effects were largely a highlight of the film. I will capitulate that it was quite obvious that just about every element on-screen was made on some fancy computer. However, there was a stylization to them that gave the film coherence and for the disaster scenes in particular, an eerie feel that made the hair on the back of neck tingle. Much like M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs”, there was a tangibly creepy feeling to watching events unfold. Seeing a plane crash or subway train derail wasn’t just CGI, it was visceral as well. Hats off to the teams behind the visuals and sound effects when it comes to those scenes.

There is a biblical/philosophical undercurrent to the film as one of the central themes is determinism vs. sheer dumb coincidence. While thought-provoking, there was already so much going on elsewhere in the story that adding this layer seemed like the filmmakers were trying to bite off a little more than they could chew. If the film’s resolution had been tied up better, I wouldn’t have even given this a second thought but there’s a lack of development to this angle that makes it feel like a remnant from one of the script’s previous drafts.

That isn’t the only problem with “Knowing”, however, there is also Cage, the score and the film’s resolution. I doubt many people are surprised to find that Cage’s character is essentially the same one you’ll get from “National Treasure”, “Next”, etc. etc. And for about 80% of the film, I was surprisingly fine with his performance … but in the final scenes the melodrama starts up and my mind even hearkened back to clips of “The Wicker Man” remake (not that he’s quite that bad here).

Composer Marco Beltrami didn’t help matters by scoring the film with the sound levels set to 11. It’s like he discovered a whole range of loud instruments he hadn’t thought of before and decided to use them all at once. There were good melodies to much of his work but it needed to be toned down about 200% so it wasn’t just a constant and leading annoyance. The people behind the stingers (those loud, quick musical notes that get you to jump) also need a gentle rap on the knuckles because when you have a film as steadily meted out as Proyas has done (for the most part), you don’t need cheap gimmicks – let the elements on-screen deliver the punchline, no need for a rim shot.

Much larger problems with the film, though, are regarding the scope and development of the story. Without giving anything away, it just seemed odd to me that a creepy group of silent men would bother to go to such elaborate lengths in order to attempt accomplishing their goals. It seemed evident that they could get what they wanted a lot quicker if they felt like doing so. Also, there’s a clear moment when the film could have ended and left the audience with a choice they could make for themselves as to where the film would go on. Instead, Proyas and company self-indulgently plow right through and come up with another ten or fifteen minutes of hammy, cliché moments and enough CGI to satisfy the entire island of Japan anxiously awaiting the next Final Fantasy installment.

The concept of “Knowing” was one that had interested me for years, back when Richard Kelly was attached to direct (he did write an early draft). It still provides good conversation points and I wouldn’t fault anyone for enjoying another sci-fi stab by Proyas. A 3 out of 5, I can only hope that this will provide him with more opportunities to put his spin on things because even when Proyas doesn’t hit all the right notes (“I, Robot”), the result is still going to spark some curiosity and probably have some great visuals to keep the audience entertained.