Wow, did I actually just watch a Nicholas Cage film and enjoy it? Well let me clarify, I enjoyed the movie, but I wouldn't go as far as saying the same about Nicholas Cage in it, who is horribly miscast.
If you're not a fan of the actor, like I'm not (don't even get me started on National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets), don't let that put you off, as Knowing turns out to be a really engrossing, surprising and at times creepy movie.
You always know that in any film that has the imagery of a haunted looking girl standing alone holding a balloon in the first five minutes is a portent of doom and that kind of sets the tone for the movie.
Fifty years ago a time capsule was buried at an elementary school containing drawings from children of what they thought the world of the future would look like. Said scary girl covered her sheet of paper with what appear to be random numbers whilst in a trance like state.
Nicholas Cage plays a college Professor and astrophysicist, called John, who has lost his faith in life since the death of his wife and must now cope with raising his son as a single parent. Right away we have a problem, as Nicholas Cage seems incapable of exhibiting any emotional range beyond a morose and grieving widower, and it gets old really fast.
The time capsule is unearthed fifty years later at the school John's son, Caleb, attends and when the boy brings the sheet of numbers home, in a drunken state John discovers a pattern to the seemingly random numbers.
The piece of paper documents tragedies and major disasters over the last half century, the numbers signifying the death count, date and the coordinates of where they happened. There are also numbers indicating disasters yet to occur.
Knowing takes such an age to get started, at first it feels like a rather over extended version of an X-Files episode, before it suddenly surprises you with a few twists that propel it into a whole other direction. There are elements of thriller, horror, sci-fi and disaster movie in the film and that's what makes it so intriguing, it has a bit of everything thrown in.
Some of the more shocking elements come from the disasters which are shown in brutal detail. What is it with films these days that want to be more and more graphic in the depictions of death and destruction? It can no longer be abstract or implied, but with the aid of CGI and clever film making processes, we're bombarded with images of people being burned alive before our eyes or crushed to death under runaway trains.
Is it because as a culture we've become so desensitized to death, that filmmakers have to resort to these extreme measures to make us care or react? I'm torn between being amazed by the special effects, but also thinking that there is often other ways to convey a story without being so heavy handed.
Not to spoil the film too much, but there's a really unsettling dream sequence with a forest burning with all the animals running from it and the horrifying thing is that all the animals are on fire. I think creatively it looked amazing, but I really wasn't expecting this type of imagery from the film.
The special effects looked impressive on the big screen of the Cinerama Dome at the ArcLight Hollywood and a vast improvement on the last film I saw there, the abysmal Max Payne.
It's not until the end of the film that all the pieces fall into place and the slow first half of the movie makes more sense as you discover all the little fragments of plot that were littered along the way like breadcrumbs.
Knowing had a surprising and totally fantastical ending which I didn't see coming. It really was a mixed bag of genres, with a real contrast between the realistic disasters - plane crashes and underground derailments, and the more sci-fi and paranormal story elements.
At times I found the film to be incredibly creepy. All the usual spooky cues were there, the dark silhouetted strangers in the woods, whispering voices in children's ears, eerie nightmarish visions of the future.
I'm quite pleased about the not-so-happily-ever-after ending though and I shouldn't be surprised by the shocking and unexpected twists from the Director (and writer) of Knowing, Alex Proyas (of I, Robot and The Crow fame). You can see his earlier influences reflected in this movie, especially the genuinely creepy and totally under-appreciated sci-fi classic Dark City.
I give Knowing three *** stars and look forward to watching it again in the future and don't let Nicholas Cage discourage you from going to see this intriguing film for yourself...