To foil an extortion plot, an FBI agent undergoes a face-transplant surgery and assumes the identity of a ruthless terrorist. But the plan backfires when the same criminal impersonates the cop with the same method.
In the fall of 1959, for a time capsule, students draw pictures of life as they imagine it will be in 50 years. Lucinda, an odd child who hears voices, swiftly writes a long string of numbers. In 2009, the capsule is opened; student Caleb Koestler gets Lucinda's "drawing" and his father John, an astrophysicist and grieving widower, takes a look. He discovers dates of disasters over the past 50 years with the number who died. Three dates remain, all coming soon. He investigates, learns of Lucinda, and looks for her family. He fears for his son, who's started to hear voices and who is visited by a silent stranger who shows him a vision of fire and destruction. What's going on? Written by
What has happened to Alex Proyas? Back in the '90s, he directed dark, edgy pieces of sci-fi/horror, like The Crow and Dark City, that didn't necessarily pander to studio or audience expectations. Nowadays, he's gone in exactly the opposite direction, first with the fun but uneven Will Smith vehicle I, Robot (which doesn't have much in common with Asimov, despite the title) and now with the Nicolas Cage-starring Knowing. Entirely bad it ain't, but boy, does it struggle from time to time.
Cage plays a physics professor at MIT, named John Koestler, who teaches students about the notion of determinism, i.e. the theory that everything is part of a precise, already established plan. The irony is that he doesn't believe any of that stuff since his wife died in a tragic accident, leaving him alone with his young son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury). One day, something special occurs at Caleb's school: a time capsule, which was buried fifty years earlier, is unearthed so that the new generation can see what kids thought the future would look like back then. Instead of a drawing, Caleb ends up with a page containing a bizarre sequence of numbers. John takes a look at the sequence, and quickly (?) realizes that the numbers represent the dates and body count of every major disaster of the last five decades, including 9/11, Katrina and - big surprise - the death of the missus. Three of the predictions, however, have yet to come true, so John must find a way to prevent them from happening. Additionally, he has to deal with a group of weird-looking people who are interested in Caleb.
If it all sounds a bit familiar, that's because it is: while the story develops on its own terms, the premise alone, coupled with the creepy atmosphere, could come from an episode of The X-Files. In case the similarities weren't clear enough, the writers have even replicated the Mulder-Scully dynamic in the shape of John and his reluctant partner Diana (Rose Byrne) and added the inevitable religious subtext, which is hinted at from the very beginning (John's dad is a preacher). Also, the Strangers look kind of... In short, it's the sense of déjà vu that brings down most of Knowing: the third act is very easy to guess, the father/son relationship is sketchy, yada yada yada.
And yet Proyas manages to get some things admirably right: the tension is actually pretty consistent, with a few professionally delivered jump-scares along the way, and the visual effects are state-of-the-art, most notably in the impressive central set-piece which - a true stroke of genius, this one - is depicted in a single, continuous shot. Additionally, Cage's performance is one of his most convincing in quite some time. Okay, so it's not that difficult given his recent body of work includes the likes of The Wicker Man, Ghost Rider and Next, but his portrayal of a man who questions his beliefs (there we go again) adds some emotional weight to the picture. And that's without mentioning the refreshingly merciless conclusion...
Knowing is nothing new, meaning that the few unexpected elements it contains are rapidly sidelined by textbook scripting. Still, even on an off-day Proyas manages to pull off a collection of oddly compelling images (Cage's hair not included). Not quite enough, but we already sort of knew that, right?
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