Knowing: Alex Proyas’ Thriller-Sci-Fi-Mystery

Knowing, directed by Alex Proyas, is a thriller-actioner-disaster-sci-fi mystery with existential and religious overtones.

Proyas has put his personal stamp on almost every movie he has made, from his splashy 1994 debut “The Crow” to the wonderfully moody 1998 noir “Dark City” to the complex technical exercise of “I, Robot.”

In “Knowing,” which also serves as star vehicle for Nicolas Cage, Proyas is nearly defeated by a patchwork of a narrative.  The scenario is credited to four different scribes, whose sensibilities don’t match, thus the feeling of a movie which, for a change, contain too many ideas for its good, and in which parts are better than the whole.  In an earlier version of the script, Richard Kelly (“Donnie Darko,” “Southland Tales) is enlisted as one of the contributors, and at point he was going to direct the picture.

Indeed, th main problem of “Knowing” is the unsuccessful and incongruous blending or mixture of conventions (and clichés) of at least four or five genres, resulting in an ever-shifting tale, which changes plots, ideas, gears and tones from reel to reel, and often within the same reel.

The text, which begins extremely well as a creepy mystery with supernatural elements, is based on an intriguing, workable premise (by standards of dominant Hollywood pictures) that a single father desperate to protect his only child and an old encoded message written by a odd schoolgirl are the only two elements that can prevent an impending global disaster.

Eccentric actor Cage plays John Koestler (in the original screenplay, he was called Ted Myles), an M.I.T. professor of astrophysics whose wife had died in a hotel fire, a traumatic event for him and his young son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury).  As a devoted single parent, Caleb is shut off from the rest of the world, mostly socializing with one friend and peer, Phil (Ben Mendelsohn).

A prologue set in 1958 shows how, as part of a dedication ceremony for a new elementary school, a group of students are asked to draw pictures to be stored in a time capsule.  One such student is Lucinda (Lara Robinson), a mysterious girl who seems to hear whispered voices and fills her paper with rows of apparently random numbers instead.

Cut to the present, 50 years later, when a new generation of students examining the contents of the time capsule.  Each student is given an envelope children placed inside five decades ago.  The girl’s cryptic message, with the seemingly random series of numbers, ends up in the hands of the precocious Caleb, while the other classmates get a drawing of a spaceman or robot or some more conventional views of the future.

But it is Caleb’s academic father who makes the discovery that the encoded message predicts with accuracy the dates, death tolls and coordinates of every major disaster of the past 50 years.  By chance, John discovers a bizarre fact in one series of the numbers, the date of the 9/11 attacks and the precise number of victims. Motivated by curiosity, which becomes an obsession, he’s able to calculate from that sheet every disaster of the past and the number of its casualties.

As John further unravels the document’s secrets, he realizes that it foretells three additional events, the last of which suggests destruction on a global scale, in which he and his son are involved. When his attempts to alert the authorities prove ineffective, he takes it upon himself to try and prevent the impending destruction.

In his heroic efforts, John is not entirely alone.  With the initially reluctant help of Diana (Rose Byrne of TV’s “Damages”) and Abby, the daughter and granddaughter of the now-deceased author of the cryptic prophecies, his increasingly desperate efforts take him on a thrilling race against time until he finds himself facing the ultimate disaster—and perhaps the ultimate sacrifice, too.

One subplot that doesn’t work, and pushes the plot into another direction, is Caleb’s sighting of the Stranger (D.G. Maloney), a sinister odd man clad in a black coat and sporting spiky blond hair, who stalks the boy and hands him a black rock.

Meant to be a supernatural thriller, Knowing charts John’s first steps in an evolutionary process towards belief in the ultimate order of the universe.  Like other Hollywood films about religion and the future, the movie is careful enough not to spell those beliefs out for fear of alienating any potential segment of the audience.

But the last reel represents a schlocky disaster flick of the kind made in the 1970s (like “The Towering Inferno”) replete with loud crashes, huge blow-ups and spectacular explosions.  Special effects seem modest, or not as spectacular, as one would expect from such fare, which could be a function of the budget.

Ultimately, Proyas, under pressure to satisfy fans of just about every genre, is unable to meet the challenge of balancing excessive action set-pieces and effects of a big-budget mainstream Hollywood flick, the more serious philosophical and religious ideas of an apocalyptic sci-fi, and a family melodrama revolving around an emotional journey.

 

Cast

John Koestler – Nicolas Cage
Diana – Rose Byrne
Caleb Koestler – Chandler Canterbury
Phil Beckman – Ben Mendelsohn
Abby/Lucinda – Lara Robinson
Grace – Nadia Townsend
Miss Taylor as girl – Danielle Carter
Miss Taylor as woman – Alethea cq McGrath
Reverend Koestler – Alan Hopgood
The Stranger – D.G. Maloney

 

Credits

A Summit Entertainment release of an Escape Artists production, in association with Mystery Clock Cinema.

Produced by Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch, Alex Proyas.

Executive producers, Stephen Jones, Topher Dow, Norm Golightly, David Bloomfield.

Co-producer, Ryne Douglas Pearson.

Co-executive producers, Aaron Kaplan, Sean Perrone.

Directed by Alex Proyas.

Screenplay, Ryne Douglas Pearson, Juliet Snowden, Stiles White; story, Pearson; adaptation, Proyas.
Camera, Simon Duggan; editor, Richard Learoyd; music, Marco Beltrami; production designer, Steven Jones-Evans; supervising art director, Michelle McGahey; art director, Andy Walpole; set designer, Jane Mancini; set decorator, Nicki Gardiner; costume designer, Terry Ryan; sound, Peter Grace; supervising sound editor, Andrew Plain; sound designer, Michael McMenomy; re-recording mixers, Phil Heywood, Robert Sullivan, Pewter Purcell; special effects supervisor, Angelo Sahin; visual effects supervisors, Andrew Jackson, Eric Durst; visual effects, Animal Logic, BUF, Postmodern Sydney, Haiku Post; stunt coordinator, Chris Anderson,

MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time: 120 Minutes.