I feel a strange shift of priorities within moviegoers today, when a movie like District 9 can use very familiar content and simply shake it around a little, and then be hailed as a masterwork of originality and become immensely popular – while a movie like Knowing will be heavily questioned and criticized beyond it’s proportions despite, or perhaps due to, the fact that it actually takes an actual leap of originality. I wonder when the latest time it was I saw a Hollywood-movie end up where this one ends up. While not being perfect, Knowing still is a proper science-fiction film in the vein of 2001 – A Space Odyssey and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Certainly not as good, for various reasons, but at least clearly part of the genre.
The storyline of Knowing is kind of a reversed bottle neck, by the end the multitude of the story is as big as it gets but to begin with, we are in a kind of X Files territory where we get a spooky prologue with a mystery note being dug under the ground (I won’t go into the details, because it’s really not important for me to go over them) and post credits we pick it up 50 years later when the note ends up in the hands of MIT professor John Koestler (Nicholas Cage) who is one of those I-lost-my-wife-so-I-lost-my-faith kind of guys, believing that the universe as we know it is all random and coincidental. Easily cracked, the numbers on the note, written by a little girl and buried for five decades, declare the dates and places of all future disasters to come, including death tolls. Cage sees 9/11 predicted from this little girls hands in 1959, as well as the Katrina and several disasters that haven’t taken place yet. Without saying too much, he doesn’t like what he sees at the end of the list of numbers.
I have heard the movie be called predictable. Looking back, I must admit there’s a lot of places where I could have seen a lot of things coming. Many quite blatant clues are placed right in the very first couple of scenes and if you know your plot and character mechanics, you would spot some obligatory scenes to come. However, I didn’t. It seems I was in on the ride. The plot of the movie, I think, expands in such a methodical way that as long as you get sucked in to begin with, you don’t ask any more questions. The mystery is intriguing enough to have you focus on the next shot, not the overall story. I was fairly annoyed by the story device that was seemingly on the side of the plot, dealing with Cage’s kid being stalked by a couple of evil, albino trench-coat-guys looking like a bunch German electro-goths. I found that they distracted the viewer from the more interesting, down-to-earth kind of story going on with Cage. But come the ending of the movie, nothing is really earthbound and they seem kind of forgivable in retrospect. Just like in Close Encounters, Knowing is a movie that starts out cryptic but ends out in big scale cathartic satisfaction and harmony, as if it all (*all*) makes sense in the end.
As for the flaws, I didn’t mind the story or any of the plot holes (which mostly are arguable anyway). What did bother me probably more than anything else about the movie, though, was it’s unfortunate big-time flirt with the melodrama. Take the score for instance, by Marco Beltrami, not really king of the subtle, and it’s unfortunate for a movie which deals with this unusual hypothesis to have such operatic and stereotypical acting. And why, WHY, do Hollywood-movies nowadays feel the need to use those HORRIBLE matte paintings? They look like a 50’s parody! As for plot, Knowing certainly bites off a lot more than it can chew. I quickly noted in the credits, with fear, that while the story credit went to one person there were like three or four guys behind the actual script. That usually means what we also get in Knowing. Messy conflicts within the narrative and sudden ”moronic behavior as plot device” from characters. Also, not every mystery thread thrown up on the floor ends up with a sensible conclusion. But despite a lot ends up as fairly arbitrary anyway, I think a lot of the questions are meant to be left unanswered. Knowing picks up a lot of ancient SF-ideas, that probably would seem tired if this genre had been over-represented in any way, and at the end of the day, you didn’t ask the monkey in 2001 how he figured out how to use that piece of bone, right? In all fairness, the movie is partly a thriller so it needs certain plot devices in order for the it to have a good spook value which, I might add, it surely delivers. This is the kind of movie that creeps you out just by having a character flip a bed on to it’s side. I’m not sure if these abandoned mysteries is a giant flaw or just one of those things you can roll with, but I know that it makes sure it doesn’t reach the top. Knowing is a movie made I’d say for 80% entertainment, and I could say I was 80% entertained. The remaining 20% is sci-fi fodder and that made me happy too. No masterpiece then, but a good ride that I certainly will recommend.
Also. I get the feeling that a lot of people who dismissed Knowing this summer were the same guys who were angry at the Bay bashers of Transformers 2. I wonder, why on Earth are the flaws of Transformers 2 forgivable, whereas the strengths of Knowing dismissible?