Oh Cage, how you have fallen. A face once so bright and shiny like a new penny, now so shrivelled and bald like a shrivelled bald horse’s face. Yes, it’s official, Nicolas Cage is pretty shat these days. He used to be great, look to Raising Arizona, Wild At Heart, Face/Off, Con Air and The Rock. Now turn the whole thing on it’s head and look at Next, The Wicker Man, Bangkok Dangerous and (shudder…) Ghost Rider.
And so when you come to Knowing, which has just been released on DVD and Bluray, you come to it with a sense that it’s going to be a dark day, and it’s all because of who’s in it.
Knowing is about an astrophysicist called John Kessler played by Nicolas Cage, no come back… His son receives a piece of paper from a 50 year old time capsule, covered in cryptographic numbers. At first they make no sense, but then Kessler discovers that they’re actually dates and locations of every major disaster for the last 50 years.
He also finds that three events have yet to happen, and begins to believe that he may have discovered the date for the end of the world.
Alongside this thread is a spooky little plotline about “the whispering people”, shadowy figures that seem to be stalking his son, and the daughter of a woman he has befriended in order to make sense of what is happening.
I won’t spoil any more for you, in case you do decide to watch it.
First of all, what’s right with it?
Well, actually, the central idea is intriguing once it starts to pick up steam. There is a genuine mystery at it’s heart, and it’s paced pretty well. Secondly, the “whispering people” parts are actually quite effective. The scene where his son has a nightmare is actually quite spooky. Alex Proyas is a very interesting director. He made The Crow and Dark City, one of the most under-appreciated science fiction films of recent years. Without sounding too pretentious, the man does have a very singular aesthetic. It’s not always apparent here, but it does bleed in when the script allows, mainly during the darker scenes.
There’s also a genuinely great scene involving an airplane about halfway in, which contains some superb effects. And this is a film which does at least seem to believe in it’s own convictions. The fate of the main adults in the movie seems to fly in the face of regular movie convention, as if the film makers were left to their own devices for once, to produce an original story without having to bow down to studio demands. I have to admit to feeling refreshed by the movie’s conclusion, even though it is rather downbeat.
Okay, so what’s wrong with it (cracks fingers).
First off, Nicolas Cage is just so completely and utterly wrong for this film it beggar’s belief. There aren’t any particularly kinetic scenes in this movie, nothing that requires more of him than perhaps to jog now and then, or rush from one room to the other. What on earth then, made them think that he was right for this? The character is supposed to be an astrophysicist for crying out loud. Surely, they could have just this once cast someone who was a bit more convincing? Trying to sell Nic Cage as an astrophysicist is like trying to sell Morrissey as Mary Poppins
And his name, for God’s sake. John Kessler? I know it could be an astrophysicist’s name, sure, but it’s such a ‘Hollywood Astrophysicist’s Name’ isn’t it. Seriously, this film would have been so much better if he’d been played with a wimpier name, I don’t know, Maurice Flackridden, Bertram Cornflakes, Francis Fotheringaylord. But no, astrophysicists are always called John Kessler, or Buck Fuck or Harlen Hardass. Sigh.
The script is pretty bloody awful too. It’s hard to know who to blame though. There are scenes where conversations literally take place like this:
J: Diana, we should get out of here.
D: I agree, John.
J: We should probably eat first though, Diana.
D: Well okay, John. If you think we should eat first, John.
J: Diana, do you like fried eggs, Diana?
D: John, I flipping hate fried eggs, John. John, haven’t you got any John, John, John?
J: Oh Diana, I thought you’d never Diana. One lump or Diana?
Seriously, we know you’re talking to each other. Why do you have to constantly remind us what your names are. Is this a fault of the director, the writer or the actor? Surely SOMEONE should have spotted that it was sounding ropey in rehearsal?
Also, about two thirds of the way in it does get very, very stupid. And it gets stupider and stupider until the climax, which is quasi-stupid, but quite satisfying too.
So all in all, it’s no masterpiece. It doesn’t even try to get preachy like most other apocalyptic films, which is rather nice. It’s just a big, dumb horse-faced movie starring a big, dumb… yeah you get the idea. It has it’s moments, I won’t deny it, and I admire it’s ending. I just wish they’d had a bit more courage in their casting. Give it a rental, and imagine Nicolas Cage replaced by Lance Henriksen. You’ll see what I mean.
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