Saturday, March 07, 2009

Dr. Zag gives the thumbs up to Cage's 2009 thriller Knowing

Hey Harry -

I just got back from a screening of KNOWING and wanted to share my reaction since I’ve been hearing a lot about the movie and haven’t read any reviews yet. I'll start off by prefacing this that it way exceeded my expectations. Yes, it was Alex Proyas so I should have been more excited, but it had been 10 years since his last movie that I loved -- actually one of my top sci-fi of all time -- Dark City. On top of that, it was a new Nic Cage movie, which meant it had a 50% chance of sucking. I was hoping for the Nic Cage from action movies like The Rock or Face/Off, not Ghost Rider or Next Nic.

So imagine my surprise when I walked out of the theater with the initial thought that I'd just seen a brilliant thriller. I'm going to try to keep this as spoiler free as possible, b/c the trailers are doing a great job of concealing some of the shocking (and pleasant) surprises of this movie. It's an intense experience - the movie is filled with a pervasive sense of dread (compounded by the spectacular disaster sequences - Roland Emmerich should take note - this is how you create disaster sequences with shock and consequences while investing people emotionally -- not just empty spectacle). But the turns that this movie takes produce a surprising ray of hope, and not in the Deep Impact or Armageddon kind of way where people improbably save the day in the nick of time.

The movie begins with Cage's son receiving a string of hand written numbers from a time capsule that his (and Nic's former) elementary school unearth. Cage is an astrophysics professor and he is raising his son by himself - his wife died years earlier - and in his opening classroom scenes you get the sense that this loss and his academic philosophy have left him believing that he's living in a world without meaning, where everything happens at random. The discovery that the numbers may have predicted every major disaster (the numbers list date/total deaths/longitude-latitude location) throws this entire belief system into chaos.

He doesn't come full circle until a horrifying plane crash matches one of the three number sequences left to happen. It's an insane sequence - shot all in one take (reminded me of those crazy ass action scenes from Children of Men that were done in one unbroken camera shot). After this he becomes a true believer and sets out on a quest to find out who wrote the numbers.

The end of the film is bold - definitely not what I was expecting - especially for a mainstream Hollywood film. I appreciate the fact that Alex Proyas decided not to go the easy way out and give everything a supernatural explanation - it's all readily explainable and it really ties in the theme of spirituality/meaning vs. science/randomness in some unique ways. It's emotional and it will leave you thinking and debating the outcome with your friends. I still can't shake it.

Some gripes -- it sags in the middle a bit after going at a break neck pace for the first half. There are some Cage moments that are a bit cringe-worthy, but all tolerable within the overall journey of his character.

The good - incredible tension throughout most of the film. A threatening sense of dread and a true mystery was unraveled that I didn't see coming. The disaster sequences - jaw-dropping. And the relationship between father and son was particularly affecting.

Overall I'd give this a solid 8 out of 10. Alex Proyas is back folks and Nic Cage can chalk one up to "good" 50% column. He's safe until National Treasure 3.

If you decide to use this review, please call me Dr. Zag.

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