The legendary A-bomb of the acting community, Nicolas Cage has regularky marked his career with different phases over the years like the changing of a butterfly or the evolution of a form of a Pokemon who’s special ability is to scream incoherently while the world burns around him. The first phase was his rise through the indies, where his esoteric acting choices where rightly hailed as genius and he nabbed an honest to god Oscar; the second was his leading man phase where he channelled his wild-card urges into massively flamboyant action heroes which created numerous 90’s action classics. These days, the Rage-Cage has settled back into delivering his unique brand of screeching and whispering in a string of independent horror movies that easily matches his whirling cyclone of lunacy with devastating hallucinogenic imagery (see Mandy and Color Out Of Space for some brain drying examples), but nestled somewhere between these periods is Nic’s wilderness phase. This was a time when the actor would seemingly agree to be in virtually fucking anything and such interesting projects such as Lord Of War were lost in the white noise of pitiful bilge of such lifeless time-eaters such as Next and Bangkok Dangerous that managed to give the man the reputation that famously gave Abed from Community such a breakdown.
One of the best examples of this turgid time period is Alex Proyas’ Knowing, so strap yourself in, people – we’re going Cage diving and we’re going deep.
A school digs up a time capsule buried 50 years ago for a school project and the young son of M.I.T. professor John Koestler comes into the possession of a list of scribbled numbers that seemingly makes no sense. Still reeling from the death of his wife in a fire, John utilises his sizable M.I.T. powers (and some liberal doses of alcohol) to the list and works out that the code contains the date, location and body count of every disaster from the last half century – and if that doesn’t set off the trippy meter, there’s three sets of numbers that’s yet to be accounted for, or to put it another way: there’s three disasters that haven’t happened yet…
Diving down the rabbit hole faster than an agoraphobic Alice, John becomes obsessed with working out what the fuck it all means before more lives are lost, but things insist on getting even weirder: what are the whispering voices that are speaking to his hearing impaired son? Who are the shadowy figures in long coats that John occasionally spots lurking outside his house? What’s the connection between the girl who scrawled these numbers years ago and her similarly vacant-eyed granddaughter?
As John races from plane crash to subway disaster in order to decipher the truth, the endgame will prove to be bigger than even he could have previously imagined – but how can he possibly save his family when the stakes are this big.
Knowing (or Canoeing, as I sometimes dismissively call it) is a perfect example of Cage’s ’00 output in which the actor sleepwalks through a high concept plot riddled with more gaping holes than a porn convention and pauses every now and then to emerge from his acting coma to do something confoundingly weird like yelling “Hey! HEY!” at a burning guy running past him like he’s about to angrily ask directions.
It’s fairly obvious that Knowing desperately wants to be seen in the same light as M. Night Shyamalan’s twist-infested work and the good news is that it succeeds. Obviously the bad news is it feels like the director’s later work as the whole thing builds to a stunningly weird conclusion and it often feels a little like the movie Signs is trying to operate heavy machinery after not having slept for four days…
It’s initially a shame because the film is directed by Alex Proyas, the man behind the ridiculously iconic The Crow (e.g the most 90’s goth movie ever made) and the hideously underrated, sci-fi conspiracy blowout, Dark City – but as the movie continues staggering around, seeming heavily tranquilised by it’s own smugness, it ends up being entertaining for reasons markedly different than what the filmmakers intended.
The plot points are all random and the performances around Cage are either heightened or non-existent – Rose Byrne seems to have taken his habit of collapsing into hysterics as some sort of inspirational lesson while Ben Mendelsohn just looks like someone farted at his mother for the whole film). The pace is all over the place, with the script dropping in a couple of huge disaster set pieces in amongst scenes of people looking progressively stressed in front of screens and white boards – the whole film should cut down on it’s caffeine intake if I’m being honest – and they seem as if they’re there only to jar the audience awake with loud noises and some questionable visuals (At one point Cage is unwittingly bestowed the superpower of being immune to fire thanks to some iffy CGI flames).
The twist is… interesting. Virtually unguessable thanks to being completely divorced from the boundaries of reality and common sense, it really is a 50/50 balance between being having brains of shit and balls of steel. Outlandish, unearned and jam packed with an anything goes attitude that make you react at the speed of about 20 WTF’s a minute, it’s an act of idiotic genius that would be admirable if it wasn’t so laughable.
An entertaining dollop of noughties Cageaholic crap, I found it impossible to hate Knowing simply because it seems genuinely unaware of how nonsensical it really is, but I’d be curious as to how it would hold up to a second viewing.
On second thoughts, perhaps I’d be better off not Knowing…