Reviewer: Movie thriller worth a look

Posted: Thursday, March 26, 2009

'Knowing'

Ap Photo/Summit Entertainment, Vince Valitutti
Ap Photo/Summit Entertainment, Vince Valitutti
In this film publicity image released by Summit Entertainment, Nicolas Cage, left, and Rose Byrne are shown in a scene from "Knowing."

Summit Entertainment

2 hours, 10 minutes

It's become pretty much de rigueur to slam Nicolas Cage when reviewing one of his movies these days. I know because I miss no chance to do so. Look at "Bangkok Dangerous." He made Rob Schneider look like Olivier in that waste of film.

But I think the problem isn't his acting, as much as it is that he just doesn't care anymore, and thus has become irrelevant. It's possible that he has other good performances in him, and this week he showed that he can deliver a perfectly good thriller without ever having to lift a finger. "Knowing" is exciting, a little scary, surprising and an enjoyable evening out, despite Cage's completely forgettable participation.

John Koestler is a recently widowed astrophysicist trying to come to terms with single parenthood when a series of bizarre occurrences threaten to derail the fragile existence he's fashioned for himself and his young son. A time capsule, disinterred after 50 years under a local elementary school, gives up a disturbing message from the past. It seems a quiet little girl who complains of being harassed by "whisper people" has sketched out a string of seemingly random numbers that, when looked at appropriately, reveal the location and details of every major tragedy on the planet from that time to now.

Circumstances lead the note to our hero, who deciphers it and embarks on a quest to discover its meaning. Along the way, as he finds himself embroiled in the predictions as they occur, Koestler's son Caleb encounters the mysterious whisper people. Who are they? What do they want, and what are the numbers ultimately trying to tell us? As we careen uncontrollably toward the final digits in the sequence, the implications become more and more terrifying, bringing the film to a surprising and wholly satisfying conclusion.

I really did enjoy this film, although I'll be the first to admit it's got its share of problems. Cage's performance, as I mentioned, is literally unremarkable. This role could have been played as well by just about anyone with a pulse -- not the career path I imagine Nick is shooting for, but who knows. The dialogue tends toward the ridiculous, as it almost always is in these disaster movies, although I've seen worse. The special effects are a mixed bag, alternately jaw-droppingly brilliant, and clumsy and fake. When the FXs guys were shooting for epic, visionary and spiritually important, they hit the mark. When they are trying to scare, such as with the burning moose running out of the forest, all they come up with is silly.

Luckily, all the good stuff is at the end, which is part of why I think I ended up liking the movie so much, despite my reticence to go see another "Nick Cage Saves the World" flick. The last 20 minutes of the movie are much better than the 100 that precede them, an anomaly in a film like this. Usually thrillers keep you going at top speed until they crash blindly into the brick wall of logic and believability, leaving you with a conclusion that just makes your head hurt.

"Knowing," owing mostly to director Alex Proyas' dark sensibilities, actually does what it's supposed to, wrapping up with mind-blowing implications. It's an emotional ending, but one that leaves you with something exciting to think about.

Proyas is really the key to this film's success. Not a prolific director, he's one that came up through pseudoscience-fiction independently and able to make his own rules. His first two mainstream films, "The Crow" and "Dark City" are, while not for everyone, considered classics of the genre. His first big studio affair, "I, Robot" is pretty much a bust, but that often happens when Hollywood tries to bend talented creative people into a big box office formula.

Proyas reportedly clashed constantly with studio heads on that film, but with "Knowing" it would appear that he's getting closer to being able to work within the system. I whole-heartedly recommend this film, not because the majority of it is great -- it's merely adequate -- but I just know the conclusion will blow you away.

Grade: B+

Not really any disaster movies on the American Film Institute's Best 100 list, unless you count "King Kong," which I've already talked about. One film that follows a similar tempo and pattern, however, is one that wouldn't normally be grouped with others in that genre. Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" (1989) follows the events of a very hot day in Brooklyn, where the racial tensions in a mixed neighborhood boil over into tragedy.

Lee is a very talented director, and you have to give him credit for not shying away from controversial topics. However, much of the film's exaggerated tone and characterizations rang a little false for me. The movie has a style, certainly, almost like a stage play in a way, but I think that style detracts a little from the story. This is more a personal bias than a critique, however. "Do the Right Thing" definitely hits hard and makes its point, I just would have preferred a more traditional telling.

Grade: A-

"Knowing" is rated PG-13 for frightening images and adult themes. "Do the Right Thing" is rated R for language, violence, and sexual content.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.



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