Knowing. Alex Proyas, director and adaptation. Script by Ryne Douglas Pearson, Juliet Snowden & Stiles White. Starring: Nicholas Cage (John Koestler), Rose Byrne (Diana), Chandler Canterbury (Caleb), Lara Robinson (Abby/Lucinda), Ben Mendlesohn (Phil Beckman), Nadia Townsend (Grace), Danielle Carter (Miss Taylor 1959), Althea McGrath (Miss Taylor 2009), D.G. Maloney (Stranger)
Before getting into the pros and cons of Knowing, a well-made relatively low-budget sci-fi thriller, let’s offer up a litmus test. How many people buy the idea of Nicholas Cage as John Koestler. a highly regarded astrophysicist teaching at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)?
And that’s he’s quietly living in the academic suburbs of Boston as a bereaved single — if somewhat alcoholic — Dad, raising his brilliant son Caleb solo, when Mysterious Forces intrude on his existence?
OK. Nobody raised a hand. That doesn’t mean that Knowing isn’t good; it’s just that it ain’t believable. Now that can be OK — after all, the flick is supposed to be futuristic. But what happens when the plot and the characters go off the rails?
Wait a minute. We’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Let’s start with the premise. It’s a doozy and makes you want the film to work. Go back in time, as director Alex Proyas (I, Robot, Dark City, The Crow) does, to 1959. There, a haunted little girl named Lucinda has convinced the local grammar school to place a time capsule next to the front doors of their new educational institution. But when school marm Miss Taylor urges her class to make drawings of the future, Lucinda’s contribution is crazy: a page full of numbers.
In 2009, the school is celebrating its anniversary by banners, a band, games, food — and the removal of the time capsule. Caleb Koestler is a student and his dad, John, is attending the ceremonies. Kids are handed envelopes with the artistic predictions of former students, now dead or in their late middle ages. Naturally, Caleb gets Lucinda’s note — and takes it home.
That night, a slightly drunk John Koestler looks at the neat line of numbers on Lucinda’s page and discerns what might have been a prediction of 9/11. And of Katrina and the 1989 San Francisco earthquake and the Tsunami and, well, every major disaster of the past 50 years.
As Casey Stengel, the folkloric manager of the New York Yankees used to say, “you can look it up.” And John/Nick does. And freaks out. He contacts his best buddy, scientist Phil Beckman, who tells him that it can’t be true.
But by this point, your belief system has been suspended. Enough that you aren’t surprised that the next numerical prediction by Lucinda — a plane crash claiming 81 lives — takes place in front of the horrified astrophysicist.
So far, so good. John Koestler turns detective and finds Lucinda’s daughter Diana and grand-daughter Abby. Caleb and Abby hit it off right away — but Diana is terrified when John admits that he’s met her “cute” at a museum because he wants to know more about her dead mother. They part — and then another predicted disaster occurs.
And that’s when the film — like the special f/x — go off the rails. Nick Cage’s John figures out that the End Is Nigh. Yep, it could be Apocalypse Now. But despite his scientific credentials, he does nothing to warn the world. Others — unexplained — do, however, and global chaos ensues.
Abby and Diana and Caleb and John bond together as the world spins awry. One big scene lurches into another as aliens — or are they angels? — make their presences felt, especially to the kids. Big, flashy car chases take the place of the eerie, taut, emotionally relevant scenes, which kept one interested during the first part of the film.
Then, BIG EVENTS take place. Sequences that remind you of E.T. and numerous f/x driven sci-fi dramas. All narrative logic departs.
Hey! It’s a Nicholas Cage movie. Should you see it? Well, it’s fun in an adolescent-boy kinda way. How about the rest of us? Hmm…We’ll depart dissatisfied that Knowing’s producers might have fixed the script but, as Dylan once put, “you could have done better but I don’t mind. / You kinda wasted my precious time / but don’t think twice, it’s alright.”