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Bob Garver's review of "Knowing"

March 30, 2009|By BOB GARVER

What a wild, uneven film "Knowing" is. It starts off looking like a generic thriller about premonitions. Then in an instant it turns into an unflinching work of haunting brilliance. Then it turns back into an average thriller. Then it develops into an above-average thriller. Then the plot turns a little goofy and you hate to see it waste its potential. But just when you think it's ended on a bad note, it turns in a fantastic finale. The quality of the film has its ups and downs, but sometimes roller coasters are fun.

The film has been marketed as a mere Nicolas Cage movie. This makes sense since he's the lead, he's a big name, and there aren't any other big names in the cast. But focusing on him isn't doing the movie any favors. His career has become something of a joke over the past few years, as evidenced by those YouTube videos that make fun of his performance in 2006's "The Wicker Man," among others. Early reviews of "Knowing" suggest that Cage ruins the whole movie. This isn't exactly true, but the film does suffer whenever he's required to carry a non-action scene.

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The real star of "Knowing" is director Alex Proyas. Proyas is a very visual filmmaker. Many filmmakers are good at letting actors and the script carry a scene, but have trouble pulling off special effects and action sequences. Proyas is the opposite. He excels at the big-money moments and lets everything in between fall into the category of "filler." This should be a bad thing, but the big-money moments in "Knowing" make the filler much more tolerable.

To get the filler out of the way: Cage plays MIT professor John Koestler. He's been the widowed father of Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) ever since his wife died in a hotel fire. Caleb's class opens a 50-year-old time capsule of drawings of the future. Most of the kids get drawings of spaceships and robots. Caleb's paper just has a strange series of numbers. The paper was written by a weirdo loner named Lucinda who felt compelled to write the numbers because voices from nowhere told her to.

John takes a look at some of the numbers -- 911012996. He discover that when broken up, the numbers represent September 11th 2001 and 2,996 deaths. The other numbers on the paper also represent major catastrophes, including the fire that killed his wife. There are three dates left. What will happen on those dates? What will happen on the last one?

Those questions do get answered in "Knowing", but the film raises a number of questions for you to ponder on your own. If the future can be forecast like this, what does it say about the fabric of time and space? What does it say about fate? What does it say about our origins? What does it say about God? At the very least, it should make you wonder what you would do if you had a chart like this.

All right, now we get to the good stuff - the action sequences. There are five sequences that the film will be remembered for. Three of them involve crashes of various modes of transportation. One is a dream sequence, which I realize is cheating a little, but it's still impressive and memorable. The last is the one that makes for the film's climax. All five sequences are amazing, but the finale is truly breathtaking. I won't tell you what it involves, except that only the fact that you're still alive will convince you that it is only a movie.

Horror movies are a dime a dozen, but "Knowing" is the first movie I've seen in a long time that is truly terrifying. The action sequences are disturbing in their intensity and the sense of hopelessness they instill. The rest of "Knowing" isn't very memorable, but I defy you to forget the film's most powerful moments.

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu

Also, check out www.bobatthemovies.com for additional reviews.

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