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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Review: Knowing

It’s not often I come out of a movie hating it so much that I’m actually angered by how awful it is. I mean, studios finance, produce and market an awful lot of bad films every year, and moviegoers shell out millions at the box office (and millions more on concession stand buys) for the privilege of being insulted by 90 minutes or so of bad filmmaking. I get this. It’s pretty much a given, on any given weekend, that there will at least one really bad movie to plunk down $10 to see. And most of the time, I can say, okay, that was bad, but I can see how maybe certain audience segments would be drawn not only to see it, but even find the experience enjoyable. And then there’s a film like Knowing.
I don’t know if I can find words to adequately express just how bad Knowing is, but I’m going to try, in the hopes that perhaps I can save you spending your own hard-earned money in a tight economy on a truly wretched movie-going experience. Knowing is directed by Alex Proyas, who made a hell of a good movie with The Crow way back in 1994, so I wasn’t without hope that Knowing wouldn’t completely suck; the trailer even intrigued me, in spite of Nicolas Cage’s recent track record of making some spectacularly bad script choices. Unfortunately, it’s far, far worse than I could possibly have imagined.
And I don’t normally put spoilers in a review, but I’m making an exception this time, because the plot of this film is so horrendously stupid and contrived that it practically begs to be dissected and analyzed in the way a scientist might examine a particularly nasty strain of intestinal bacteria, in the hopes that one might find a cure for it, or better yet, a way to eliminate it from existence entirely. So you are forewarned that much of what is past the jump is spoiler heavy, but I’ll add that even if you’ve not see the film and for some reason this review fails to convince you to go see something else, it’s unlikely that the spoilers will have any impact on your enjoyment of the film, such as it is.

Let’s start with the script, for which IMDb lists no fewer than five credits — which is rarely a good sign. To begin with, the plot is utterly nonsensical. Maybe there was a good story idea in there somewhere to start with, but if so, it sure didn’t make it to the shooting script. Here’s the basic idea: in 1959 an elementary school buries a time capsule, into which they put drawings by students depicting what they think the world will look like 50 years hence. Lucinda (Lara Robinson), a weird and apparently friendless girl who hears voices, doesn’t make a drawing — she makes a page of seemingly random numbers, which she doesn’t get to quite finish because her teacher makes her stop due to an arbitrary time limit. Why? Well, so that Lucinda can go hide out in a janitor’s closet and claw the remaining numbers into a door, thereby creating a swell reason for Nicolas Cage to rip the door off its hinges five decades later to discern their meaning. That door sure must have had good workmanship to last 50 years in a public school without ever being replaced.
50 years after the time capsule is buried, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), who goes to the same elementary school, is the lucky recipient of Lucinda’s list o’ doom-and-gloom which, as it turns out, predicts disasters. Fortunately for the plot, Caleb’s dad, John (Nicolas Cage) is an astrophysicist who’s good with random lists of numbers. He’s also depressed and morose over the death of his wife a year or so ago, which we know because Cage sits around mopingly in his dark and gloomy house and drinks booze. A lot of booze. And one night while drinking yet more booze, he peruses the random list and is able, even in his inebriated state, to figure out in just one night that these numbers are not, in fact, random. They’ve predicted every global disaster for the past five decades and, even better for the contrived plot, there are more disasters yet to come. I can’t confirm whether the numbers do in fact predict every single disaster over fifty years (that seems like a lot of disasters to cover with one sheet of paper, even given that Lucinda wrote on both sides), or if it’s just a selective sampling, disaster-wise, but trust me, that is the least of the problems the script has.
Once John figures out that the numbers predict disasters, he has a problem … how to convince the authorities that he knows when disaster is about to strike, without being locked in a psych ward or arrested as a perpetrator. That’s not even the worst of his problems, though, because the last number on the list predicts the end of the world, so given that, the rest of John’s problems — dead wife, estranged parents, kid who’s started hearing “whispering voices” — are pretty minor. Oh yes, now that Caleb has his hands on Lucinda’s list, he’s started hearing voices too, and being tailed by some mysterious men in black trench coats who kind of look like Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, only they lack Spike’s personality, or, to be more specific, any personality at all. They just stand around in the fog a lot looking vaguely menacing, and hand Caleb a black rock. There are other black rocks in the film too, but the relevance of those, which is kind of revealed at the end, is rather meaningless as well. In relation to how meaningless everything else in the film is, though, the rocks are a fairly minor quibble.
Anyhow, so John has to track down Lucinda, but unfortunately, she’s dead. Fortunately, her daughter, Diana (Rose Byrne, who’s given some of the worst lines in the film to work with but does try her damnedest to do something with them) is not dead. Well, not yet, anyhow, but the end of the world is coming and all, so we don’t have a lot of time to work with here, and there’s a lot of meaningless plot to contrive still. Diana has a daughter, Abby (also played by Lara Robinson — who, to be fair, does give a nice performance) and, as an added bonus, she also hears whispering voices, so she and Caleb have something freaky to bond over. John enlists Diana’s help in trying to find out what the rest of her mother’s numbers mean and whether there might be a clue to unravel there that will allow him to stop the next disaster. And there’s much running around, and an awful lot of Nic Cage standing around looking scared, or mad, or surprised. It’s kind of hard to tell what he’s supposed to be feeling with, because Proyas seems to have directed him to stand in exactly the same pose, with exactly the same facial expression, in many of the scenes.
In addition to the many other ludicrous things about the plot, Caleb has a hearing aid for no apparent reason than to serve as a plot contrivance for hearing the voices, although Lucinda and Abby don’t seem to need one. We know that the hearing aid is superfluous because the dialogue tells us so — John tells Diana that Caleb is not, in fact, deaf, he just has difficulty filtering sounds. This doesn’t stop Caleb from being able to hear his dad talk to him perfectly well when the hearing aid isn’t in, but nonetheless he’s a “sign language expert,” another plot contrivance that allows Caleb and John to have a secret sign language message (“You and me, together forever”) so that they can enact their special sign language message to each other at the end in an ET-inspired “I’ll be … right … here” moment. Which, in E.T., works to move me to tears every time, whereas here, it made me laugh out loud.
There are so many huge plot holes and what-the-hell moments in this film, I started to lose track of them. But for starters, if these alien beings/angels/whatever the hell they are knew our world was going to end 50 years before it happens, why in the name of all that’s holy would they communicate that through a series of numbers predicting various disasters over five decades when the final number is The Big One, the end of the world as we know it? Is this alien race comprised of total morons? They had 50 years in which they could have communicated to world leaders, “Hey, by the way, on this date your entire world will be blown away by a massive solar flare, but good news! We have these big ass spaceships, and we know another planet where your species can exist, so let’s start evacuating and get a colony going, pronto!” Instead, they give this odd girl a bunch of random numbers to write down and put in a time capsule, and ultimately rescue some children and bunny rabbits (I’m not making this up, I swear) and dump them on the planet with nary a shelter or adult in site to ensure their continued survival. Or perhaps, if one struggles to find a spiritual angle here, one might surmise that they dumped them in heaven. I really couldn’t say, but by that point, I really didn’t care.
In addition to the wretched script, which requires of the actors that they deliver some incredibly bad dialogue and act serious in ridiculous sitations, the direction of the actors is nothing to write home about either. Cage and Byrne are both talented and capable of better than what we see here (although Cage’s script choices of late have been questionable — more on that in next week’s column), but the line readings by the supporting cast are so incredibly wooden it’s hard to believe Proyas looked at what he got at the end of any given day and thought he’d nailed it. Ever. Also, there are some special effects that are more graphic than they needed to be, which gave them a feeling of gratuitousness, and really, the entire huge special effects-heavy scene at the end could have been eliminated almost entirely, shaving a few millions off the budget.
And then there’s the score. Oh, how I hated the score for this film. It’s by Marco Beltrami, who’s composed some excellent scores in the past, including the scores for 3:10 to Yuma, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and The Omen, but here his score is so overbearing, so constantly manipulative, so intent on attempting to force feelings upon the audience — emotions that should be reactions to the story and characters — that I wanted earplugs to drown it out. Or a mute button for the score. Come to think of it, the entire thing would have been better with a mute button shutting everybody up.
Look, there was a good idea somewhere here, but along the way things went terribly, terribly wrong. The idea of an alien race and/or celestial beings who know the world is going to end isn’t a bad place to start, but it would have been so much more interesting, both philosophically and from a story standpoint, to make a film about say, the aliens coming to earth and telling the leaders they’re going to save 10% of the population, and they have to figure out who’s worthy of saving. Or something, anything, but this horribly contrived, nonsensical mess of a movie.

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2 Responses to “Review: Knowing”

  1. bunnybeth says:

    Thanks. I just saved ten bucks!

  2. RedheadedWonder says:

    Experienced a similar fury after being subjected to “My Best Friend’s Girl” the other night.
    But seriously, hasn’t Nick Cage made enough of these god-awful popcorn flicks to justify another Charlie Kaufman collaboration?

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon