Movie Review: Knowing
The Charlotte Observer
Reviewers sometimes insult actors by saying they don't vary their expressions across an entire movie. But until “Knowing,” I never thought that could literally be true.
Nicolas Cage does widen his eyes with about 15 minutes left in the film. A tear, possibly glycerin or a computer-assisted effect, winks at us once from the top of a cheek. But the hangdog expression that makes his face a stony triangle of discontent never alters. He starts the film (directed by “I, Robot's” Alex Proyas) in a mope, brow furrowed and lips clenched, and ends up facing an apocalypse the same way.
Cage plays – no, that implies acting. Cage walks around as John Koestler, an M.I.T. professor who has lost faith in God after his wife's death in a fire. Son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) finds a piece of paper buried 50 years ago in a time capsule at his elementary school, and it's covered with numbers. Dad soon realizes it's a list of every significant disaster of the last half-century, broken down by date, total deaths and geographic coordinates. It was scribbled by a little girl, now dead herself, and three of the events are still to come.
Does he take this written evidence to the media or a government official, complete with an explanation of the data? Nope. After seeing one more terrible event first-hand, he makes an anonymous call to the FBI in New York City, sounding like the crankiest of cranks, to tell them 170 people will be wiped out the next day at a certain intersection. He drives there to find out that no one believed him – fancy that! – and witnesses another tragedy. He then decides he, Caleb, and the daughter and granddaughter of the prophet (Rose Byrne and Lara Robinson) should try to ride out the last terrible tragedy together.
The slovenliness of the filmmaking is embarrassing. Our M.I.T. prof hears the ozone layer above Earth will be vaporized, killing every living thing on Earth's surface, so he suggests hiding in a cave. Passengers inside a subway train tilting off its tracks stand around calmly, as if nothing's happening, and people on the platform who see it careening toward them don't move out of the way.
And the central premise of the script – by Ryne Douglas Pearson, Juliet Snowden and Stiles White – is ridiculous: Aliens tell an elementary schooler to write down data about tragedies, them let the list stay out of sight for 50 years and don't inform anyone else. (If they don't want to prevent tragedies, why tell anyone at all?)
Maybe Cage thought the impressive special effects would overshadow the human element, though they seem an expensive afterthought in a story of redemption and restored faith. Maybe he thought no amount of acting could help the tattered, silly script. In any case, that's what he provides: no amount of acting. This is the first film of his last six to be screened in advance for critics; if “Knowing” indicates his ability to pick projects, I'd like to go back to the status quo.