by Bill Wine
Each week, veteran film critic Bill Wine will look back at an important film that is worth watching, either for the first time or again.
On paper, “Knowing” looks like yet another subpar Nicolas Cage-starring thriller.
I mean, let’s face it: critic after critic after critic has characterized his crowded but unimpressive resume over the last few years and has found it wanting. But movies aren’t made on paper.
And, surprising or not, “Knowing” is something special.
It’s an audacious, absorbing, remarkably visceral apocalyptic thriller in which Cage, in downbeat-desperation mode, races against time. And again.
He plays a professor of astrophysics, a widower and single dad whose son’s school stages a ceremony to open a time capsule that was buried on its grounds 50 years ago. In it is a sheet of paper containing a mysterious series of digits that seems to foretell the dates, locations, and body counts of large-scale tragic events — some that have already occurred and some that are yet to.
The cataclysms in the future can perhaps be avoided, but how? And how are these seemingly prophetic strings of numbers somehow linked to the professor and his son?
To detail much more about the narrative would be a disservice to a film that doesn’t reveal its central secrets until very late in the game. And even the film’s ultimate genre cannot be labeled without spilling too many beans and mitigating this powerful drama’s full impact.
Suffice to say that it’s in the realm of the supernatural, that one of its major themes is determinism versus randomness and coincidence, and that the film proves to be, as it unfolds, intense, suspenseful, smart, disturbing, unnerving, provocative, and moving.
But what’s perhaps most admirable about it is its boldness, its refusal to play it safe. The style and storyline are sure to be dismissed by some viewers as preposterous and pretentious.
But not this viewer.
By the time the film ends — and, really, not until then, so patience is demanded — what seem like a disparate and enigmatic array of plot strands have gracefully interconnected to comprise a cohesive, distinct, vividly memorable, and transcendent movie experience.
Does director Alex Proyas occasionally overdo the CGI fireworks? Yes. But the handful of depictions of nightmarish disasters are, even when they’re not quite convincing, still dramatically sound, awe-inspiring, and terrifying in concept if not in execution.
By then, we have agreed to take the leap of faith that the script demands in a risk-taking philosophical mystery-thriller about predestination that’s definitely worth “Knowing.”
Bill Wine is an Emmy-winning film critic who served in that capacity for WTXF and KYW Newsradio. He lives in Chestnut Hill.