An ambitious but ultimately flawed mess, "Knowing" finds its compelling premise, intriguing symbolism and proficient action sequences shackled by weak plotting and an ending that pushes past the implausible into the utterly ludicrous.
It's a shame considering director Alex Proyas' penchant for smart genre filmmaking. From the subversive "Dark City" (the recent director's cut mind you, not the flawed theatrical release) to cult hit "The Crow", Proyas' skill shines through even fare like "I, Robot" which suffered from very visible studio interference. Yet here, his first film in five years and one which can fairly be called his vision, the final result feels rushed both in intent and execution.
The building blocks are on hand for something quite different. The premise itself, about a piece of paper exhumed from a time capsule and filled with numbers corresponding to disasters between when it was writen to several weeks after it was retrieved, has promise. Three large scale disasters that take place during the film - from a single-take five-minute sequence involving the aftermath of a plane crash, to an intense subway derailment scenario - are pulled off with visceral aplomb. Even Cage, an actor famous for his campy over-the-top performances in recent years, is refreshingly restrained for once.
Yet right from the get-go everything feels awkwardly forced and distinctly trite. Cage's first realization about the significance of the numbers and the way he happens to be on hand for the first one are leaps of logic even the most gullible audience member will have a hard time buying. A bunch of mute strangers that look like they escaped from auditioning for the albino monk villain in "The Da Vinci Code" hover on the sidelines like passive peeping toms and inspire dread more for reasons of 'stranger danger' than being heralds of an apocalypse.
The main thrust of the plot is generally absorbing in spite of its credibility issues, and it builds with decent intensity towards a religious or supernatural revelation. When that comes however, the twist takes things into an entirely unexpected and far more science-fiction oriented direction before the coda ultimately tries (and fails) to fuse the two disparate fields together.
It's a ballsy idea, but the sudden change so late in the game proves so jarring and thinly realized that it quickly loses what interest we had in the film's mystery. Worse, the sheer silliness of this whole endeavor is suddenly thrust into the spotlight and turns what had been a decent genre film up until that point into a sci-fi atrocity that will sit alongside the likes of "Mission to Mars" in the annals of bad cinema.
Supporting performances from a mix of strong Australian talent like Rose Byrne and Ben Mendelsohn prove oddly lethargic, production design does an effective job at reimagining Melbourne as the US east coast but much detail is lost in the often murky desaturated cinematography. Visual effects are passable, some excelling (nice job on the plane crash and wall of fire by Animal Logic) whereas others seem decidedly unfinished (ie. 'the new Eden'). Marco Beltrami's score though often excels throughout.
In many ways this sort of blunder is ultimately more disheartening than the more rigidly cut-and-dried efforts of the genre because such potential has been wasted on an idea that should have been realized with far more care and consideration. The director is skilled and knows his stuff, the concept is solid, and some of the ideas floated are relatable and provocative even if the likes of "Contact" and "Battlestar Galactica" have demonstrated far more skill at exploring the science/faith divide.
Yet narratively it is such a jumble of poorly cobbled together leftovers that steer us into waters so rough that only a ridiculous 'deus ex machina' can salvage what's left of the story - and in the process leave us soured by the whole experience. A few may find revelation in this awkward fusion of "Left Behind" meets "Close Encounters", but most will simply find grave disappointment.