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Review By: Michael Dance
Movie Grade: A-
Knowing is really involving science fiction, a story built around an interesting concept that actually goes to the places you never expect these movies to go to. It’s out there, it’s ambitious, and despite some moments that drag, it totally works.
I do say all that with a full understanding that the movie has gotten completely eviscerated by most critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, three “top critics” have given the film a positive review versus nineteen who’ve given it a negative review.
Now, as a critic, it’s probably no surprise that I read a lot of reviews myself, but I actually take my review-reading seriously. Whenever I love a movie, I pay close attention to the bad reviews, and whenever I hate a movie, I pay close attention to the good ones. I find it usually gives me a better feel for the film — and over the years, it’s also made me nearly immune to the knee-jerk “that critic is a complete idiot” reaction.
But it’s not working for Knowing. I’m getting annoyed and very knee-jerky. Every negative review I’ve read goes something like this:
“Nicolas Cage sucks.”
The reviews usually spend the lion’s share of their word counts talking about Cage’s unique brand of acting, and often mention The Wicker Man to back up their case. That really bad Cage horror vehicle from 2006 was barely seen by anyone — except critics, of course, and apparently they’re still bitter about it. Just ask them.
Despite a few particularly Cage-y lines, I thought he was fine, for the record. He plays an M.I.T. science professor named John Koestler, a widow with a young son who comes into possession of a piece of paper with a pattern of numbers on it that has predicted every major disaster of the last fifty years — with a few more to come.
The pattern threatens Koestler’s belief in a random, not deterministic, universe — and if the future is predetermined, can he do anything to stop it?
And who was whispering the pattern to the little girl who wrote it down fifty years ago? And are they the same people who’ve started stalking John and his son from afar?
These are questions that I think should get science fiction fans excited. Apparently, though, other critics have taken the random vs. deterministic theme and decided it makes Knowing a “religious” movie, and therefore a target of further ridicule. As the credits were rolling at the screening I went to, a critic behind me said (to his friend, but mostly to hear himself talk), “If I wanted to see a Billy Graham movie, I would have.” Huh? A lot of critics are comparing it to M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs as though that’s an insult; they’ve forgotten that most of them gave Signs a good review when it came out, and only later jumped on the Shyamalan-hating bandwagon after the failure of his follow-ups.
The straw that incited me to write this critic-bashing rebuttal of a review was not the critic who made the Billy Graham comment, but another critic seated in front of me at my screening. It was a public screening, and the theater was jam-packed with a diverse crowd. They seemed to be into it — holding their breath during the scary parts (including a terrific uninterrupted shot of a plane crash and its aftermath), giggling nervously afterwards, and so on. During the film’s climax, there’s a terrific special effects moment (I’m not talking about the disaster scenes you’ve seen in the ads), and as it was unfolding, the audience was in rapt silence.
Except for this one critic in front of me, who was laughing and making comments to her friend. She was a professional middle-aged white woman surrounded by an urban crowd of all ages, and she was the one disrupting the movie. I wanted to punch her, but I didn’t want to go to jail, so I’m writing this review instead.
I do feel a bit vindicated by Knowing coming in on top of the box office this weekend. Because the fact is, Knowing is a well-executed movie based on solid science fiction themes that actually gives you an ending that most sci-fi movies (Signs included, incidentally) wimp out of delivering — usually in favor of something more conventional and less, as they’re calling it, “ludicrous.”
Knowing is directed by Alex Proyas, who also directed the undervalued Dark City — which also, come to think of it, featured mysterious strangers who followed the hero around. Roger Ebert, a big sci-fi fan, gave both movies four stars. I disagree with Ebert as much as the next guy, but his Knowing rave does help remind me that some critics still want the sense of wonder that movies can provide — rather than time to sit in the dark and think up snarky comments to write about Nicolas Cage. If you’ll let it, Knowing provides that sense of wonder.
Movie Grade: A-
Academy AwardÂ® Winner Nicolas Cage (National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Leaving Las Vegas) stars in KNOWING, a gripping action-thriller of global proportions about a professor who stumbles on terrifying predictions about the future"”and sets out to prevent them from coming true.
In 1958, as part of the dedication ceremony for a new elementary school, a group of students is asked to draw pictures to be stored in a time capsule. But one mysterious girl fills her sheet of paper with rows of apparently random numbers instead.
Fifty years later, a new generation of students examines the capsule's contents and the girl's cryptic message ends up in the hands of young CALEB KOESTLER. But it is Caleb's father, professor JOHN KOESTLER (Nicolas Cage), who makes the startling discovery that the encoded message predicts with pinpoint accuracy the dates, death tolls and coordinates of every major disaster of the past 50 years. As Ted further unravels the document's chilling secrets, he realizes the document foretells three additional events"”the last of which hints at destruction on a global scale and seems to somehow involve Ted and his son. When Ted's attempts to alert the authorities fall on deaf ears, he takes it upon himself to try to prevent more destruction from taking place.
With the reluctant help of DIANA WAYLAND (Rose Byrne) and ABBY WAYLAND, the daughter and granddaughter of the now-deceased author of the prophecies, Ted's increasingly desperate efforts take him on a heart-pounding race against time until he finds himself facing the ultimate disaster"”and the ultimate sacrifice.