KNOWING seems to be more famous these days for being passionately defended by Roger Ebert than actually being a decent movie. Ebert has taken the time and energy to not only post a positive review of the film, but to also write a detailed defense of the film on his blog. Sometimes, the subject matter of a film can appeal to us so much that we lose sight of whether or not the film is actually good. My general feeling towards KNOWING is that it had an interesting premise, but it quickly got away from itself and ended up diminishing the characters it had taken the time to develop.
The beginning of the story is pretty enjoyable; John Koestler (Nicholas Cage) is a professor at MIT, who along with his son, is still coping with the death of his wife. The meat of the film takes off when his son receives a letter from a time capsule that is a series of numbers. During one of John’s late night drinking sessions, he stumbles on the code and realizes it’s actually a “map” that predicts all of the major catastrophes in the world to pinpoint accuracy. The letter, and John’s attempt to thwart the events, establishes the basis for the film.
Now, with that basic setup, we really have something that’s both interesting and intense. There’s a moment when John finds himself at the exact spot, at the exact time one of the events happens and it blew me away. It caught me completely off guard and was a real treat to witness on the big screen. There are a couple of similar moments throughout the film, but the downturn comes when all of the characters realize the end of the world is approaching. The film takes a 180 of sorts and the tone completely changes. That’s also where supernatural (more so) elements come into play and the film gets away from what made it so interesting in the first place.
Although I didn’t like where they took the story, I have to give some credit to the screenwriters for not taking the easy way out. The first hour of the film is setup to have a happy, Hollywood type ending where the hero saves the day. If they had done that, it would have been an embarrassment to the film. But the path they did take made the film feel too similar to movies we’ve seen before. I would have liked to see the kids play a bigger part in the coming events and perhaps they could have worked in where the letter had a more specific tie to them. They could have also eliminated Diana Whelan (Rose Byrne) altogether. Her character was a distraction at all times and served very little purpose.
Doomsday films seem to be a dime a dozen these days and KNOWING was a nice diversion from some of the Emmerich films we’ve received over the years. Give praise to director Alex Proyas for continuing to make original films, even if he misses a beat here and there. And even though this has been said many times before, can someone please give Mr. Cage a haircut?