FILM: Knowing (2009)

Everyday it gets harder and harder to defend Nicholas Cage. We all know how good he was in films like Leaving Las Vegas and Adaptation, even if we haven’t seen them. To kids these days, alas, he’s Ghost Rider, he’s National Treasure (or whatever the lead character in that franchise is named). He can be great when he has something to work with, but more and more often he seems to be actively avoiding any challenging scripts (I say ‘challenging scripts’ rather than ‘challenging roles’ because I will not deny that a motorcycle rider with a flaming skull instead of a head could only be a challenging part to play).

Here, we have a totally serviceable premise- a time capsule buried in the ’50s contains a letter predicting every major disaster from the past 50 years. Already, we have a turn, a potential twist and a ticking clock to doomsday. It should really write itself- so what went wrong?

The biggest issue with the script here, other than some often cringe-worthy dialogue, is that the plot has no real structure. MIT astrophysics professor John (Cage) wanders through this mystery earnestly, with wide eyes and a furrowed brow, but no real sense of purpose. More often than not, he bumps into important characters and revelations by pure chance. One could of course argue that this is part of the film’s message- that, however seemingly random, everything happens for a reason. If so, it makes this one of the most disturbing blockbusters in a long time- uncomfortably insinuating that events such as the September 11 terrorist attacks were a necessary evil, part of some advanced alien/angelic disaster warning system.

Without any motivation beyond Shyamalan-esque clichés (“I’m a preacher’s son, but my wife died a few years ago and I’ve lost all faith!”) the characters are uniformly unlikeable and unengaging. What is heartbreaking here is that this film was directed by Alex Proyas, the guy behind the brilliant cult classic Dark City. The more mainstream I, Robot was an intriguing, internally consistent sci-fi thriller with very strong performances. Which makes it all the more puzzling that none of the actors here seem to have received much direction beyond “this is creepy, look creepy”, and the shot choices, while slick, are purely functional.

Praise has been heaped upon the Australian-made special effects in this film, but they really are a mixed bag. I won’t deny that there are some visually stunning moments, mostly in the more fantastical sequences, but there are times when things ring so far from the truth that they are almost laughable. The train crash sequence would look great in a videogame, not in a film aiming for any credibility; any time the special effects team attempt to render realistic fire on screen, one cannot help but cringe (and here’s a drinking game for Aussie viewers: take a shot every time you recognize a Melbourne landmark or tram in what is supposed to be Brooklyn or New York).

Add a derivative and often inappropriate soundtrack to the above criticisms and should be pretty clear that this will be a disappointing cinematic experience for film lovers, science fiction buffs and Proyas fans alike.

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1 comment:

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