Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Movie Review: Knowing

Occasionally there are entertainers who just can’t catch a break from an audience, once they have "seemingly" strayed from the familiar and accepted role that may have initially earned them their renown. In the world of comics that person is John Byrne, writer & artist of such well-known four-color favorites as Fantastic Four, X-Men, Superman, Wonder Woman and honestly, too many others to list here.

Byrne is often opinionated, but given his decades long tenure in comics, he has experienced all sides of the comic book industry. His greatest crime to far too many critical fan boys is that he has simply spoken his mind…about virtually every facet of the business. Agree with him or not, Mr. Byrne’s considerable talents have not diminished, in fact in my opinion, he is still at the top of his game. That doesn’t translate into any current work for big publishers like DC or Marvel and perhaps John Byrne has "burned" too many bridges to remain welcome in his old tramping grounds.

In the world of motion pictures, Nicholas Cage has also become one of those entertainers who immediately garner critical contempt or harsh, long-winded diatribes upon the announcement of his casting in any film role. Early in his career, Cage specialized in portraying quirky oddballs and loners, which endeared him to the very same group of nerds who now regularly trash him in their movie reviews. I like Cage as a performer, but that doesn’t mean that every role that he selects entices me to purchase a movie ticket. Bangkok Dangerous looked like a waste of time to me, so I didn’t bite; and I’m not interested in seeing it on cable, and I won’t rent the DVD.

I caught an advance screening of his latest film, Knowing, last night and this isn’t the Nicholas Cage of National Treasure" Book of Secrets or Ghost Rider. This time out Cage is slight bit more Leaving Las Vegas, in which he won an Academy Award as Best Actor; not that I’m saying that this movie is at that level, just that it deserves a look see from folks who might tend to blow it off just because Nick is present.

Hopefully, there are no major spoilers included here folks, but I touch on story aspects that you may want to avoid:

Knowing casts Cage as a widowed astrophysics professor who is still struggling with the loss of his wife, while trying to raise their young son, Caleb, as a single parent. There is a subplot that reveals an ongoing estrangement from his parents, particularly his father; a pastor, that touches on story elements about the reconciliation of science vs. faith. Fifty years earlier the students at Cages’ sons elementary school sealed drawings of what they thought the future would be like inside a time capsule, which has now been opened in the present day. Cage’s son is the recipient of an envelope containing a full page sequence of numbers generated by a little girl named Lucinda from that era, who appeared somewhat disturbed at whispering voices that only she was aware of.

After closer examination, Cage’s astrophysics professor is shocked to discover that the numbers are the dates & casualty figures of major disasters (including the date of his wife’s death in a hotel fire) from the last five decades…and there are three prophetic dates remaining on the list. Scrambling to determine the meaning of this information, Cage and Caleb are also being watched by mysterious figures that have a connection to his son; now experiencing whispering voices too. Cage seeks out the adult daughter of the now deceased Lucinda (played by actress Rose Byrne of 28 Weeks Later & Damages). Byrne’s character, Diana, is also a single parent with her own daughter, Abby, who like Lucinda and Caleb hears the "whispering" people.

Director Alex Proyas (The Crow and Dark City) is an obvious admirer of Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick and you will find nice beats from each of these film-makers in Knowing. The Hitchcock-style suspense sequences are riveting. The rush to understand the films prophetic puzzle is fraught with tension and actor Nick Cage manages to build up to a believable level of anxiety as the unfolding events strip away much of what he believed about the world. This movie pulls no punches and the excellent effects sequences from the climax are stunningly underplayed….for the most part.

I do have to add that some of what is revealed at the end takes the Kubrick-style elements just a bit too far. Mind you, it is awesomely cool stuff to see, but Knowing may have benefited far greater from not showing certain aspects of what was playing out. At the movies apocalyptic end, Cage’s character, John, returns to the arms of his parents (and sister), telling them only that Caleb is safe, without elaboration. If director Alex Proyas could have resisted "actually" showing the event that separated John from Caleb, and instead subtly suggested what was occurring, and THEN tacked on the last shot of Caleb and Abby, it would have been much more "Kubrick" to me.

Despite this, Knowing is a really good movie, well worth seeing, that merges both old school and new age faith for a surprisingly uplifting experience. Give it a look!

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