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Review: Knowing ****

I enjoyed Knowing, despite my biases. I think I want to hate it. After all, it is another Nicolas Cage action film— Ghost Rider and Next are still fresh in my mind—and the trailer reminded me of a hundred “the world is ending and only one smart guy can save it” action movies. Yet somehow, despite a tapestry of character and story cliches, Knowing transcends.

John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) is a burnt-out scientist / teacher. He is a widower who drinks too often, hasn’t spoken to his family since his wife’s death, and lives in the country with his young son, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury). One day, he asks his students if they believe the world is deterministic or random. If the world is deterministic, then all is set in stone and there is no such thing as free will. If the world is random, then there is no meaning to anything; the universe is ruled by chance. When Koestler’s students ask him what his opinion is, he responds sullenly: “I think shit just happens.” Fatefully for him, the shit that is about to happen will challenge that view.

50 years ago, a class at Caleb’s elementary school put pictures into a time capsule. They were supposed to draw what they each thought the future would look like, but one girl, Lucinda Embry (Lara Robinson), frantically fills her page with numbers instead, front and back, as if possessed. Lucinda may be the gloomiest little girl I have seen. She has few lines but has a face Tim Burton would love.

So you know the rest: Caleb’s class opens the time capsule and he, either by chance or determination, gets Lucinda’s numerical crib notes. Koestler (Cage) glances at the paper and, by chance, notices the numbers 91101 (9/11/01). One bottle of booze and a lost night of sleep later and Koestler thinks he has found every major global disaster of the past half century all within the numbers covering Lucinda’s note—death counts included! Unfortunately, there are three catastrophes listed that have yet to occur.

The special effects then take over as Koestler tries to prevent tragedy after tragedy. I have seen plenty of violent movies, but was actually taken aback by the unforgiving special effects. In particular, a scene where a subway car literally mows down hundreds of people is not filled with much blood or gore, but is brutal in its honesty of what a couple tons of moving steel might do to civilians. I find it odd that movies like this, where hundreds die painfully on camera is rated PG-13, and a movie like “I Love You, Man!” is R simply because it swears a bit and talks about sex. Ah well.

Knowing is a big screen thriller and has more big budget cliches than I can count. Yes, Nicolas Cage runs around with his crazy hair through most of the picture (after a disaster scene in this movie, I’m convinced he would make a great zombie) and like so many scary movies these days, obligatory strange people keep appearing and stare from ever diminishing distances. Do they do this solely to creep audiences out? There are much better ways to get a kid’s attention: try a lollipop or something.

Yet, it works. There were times when I thought the film was about to cede to audiences completely, but it didn’t. We get plenty of satisfying explosions and suspense, but we also get a message and several powerful ideas to ponder. It’s a win, win.

Though I wonder, did Nicolas Cage choose Knowing because it had a great script, or did he wind up in a good movie by numerical chance? When you’re in as many action movies as he’s been since 2006, it’s hard to say. More importantly though, have big budget movies picked up their necessary formulas and cliches randomly or has the audience determined them?

Reader Comments (4)

While it hasn't convinced me to give "Knowing" a try, very thoughtful and well-written.

April 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrandon G.

This movie was bad.

April 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJon Van Camp

The previous post was a review done by Jon Van Camp, future writer and co-editor of this web page.

April 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJon Van Camp

I don't believe this is the only review. i have seen several movies since this one was released that deserve a comment or two. Good thoughts though...

April 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWiz

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