- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

Director Alex Proyas is frustrated by the critics who described his “Dark City” (1998) as looking good but having nothing to say. It had so much to say that the average critic just missed it, he has complained.

The auteur has half a point. “Dark City” did raise a fascinating middlebrow philosophical question, namely whether man is more than the sum of his memories. He only gets half credit because he fails to address the real problem with “Dark City,” and that’s the ham-handed way in which he closes the picture: with a preposterous supernatural battle that rivals C-level Japanese animation in silliness.

Similar problems dog “I, Robot” and “The Crow,” both of which raise interesting questions, the answers to which Mr. Proyas drowns out in gunfire.

In “Knowing,” Mr. Proyas finally overcomes his habit of capping films with lowbrow violence and, instead, churns out a relatively fascinating interpretation of the biblical story of Ezekiel. Today’s middlebrow thought: determinism versus randomness and man’s ability to influence his fate.


“Knowing” opens in 1959, with an elementary class’s burial of a time capsule. While the students are busy scribbling pictures of the future, one little girl has filled both sides of her paper with odd script: an endless string of numbers.

Fast forward to 2009 and the time capsule’s exhumation. Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), the son of MIT professor John Koestler (Nicolas Cage), is now a student at the same elementary school. He receives the little girl’s page of numbers and takes it home, challenging his father to find the pattern.

And find it John does, after fortuitously noticing one chunk of numbers: 0911012996. Let’s add some slashes: 09/11/01/2996. September 11, 2001. 2,996.

From this point on, John is on a mad quest to decipher the rest of the numbers, which correspond to every major disaster (natural or otherwise) and its death toll for the last 50 years. He also tries to figure out just how to stop the three disasters left on the list. In doing so, John grapples with his own conceptions of fate, free will and obligation to family.

Mr. Cage is problematic as always as the everyman leading actor, because he doesn’t look or sound like any everyman you’ve ever met. His stilted gait and awkward line readings are most distracting. Even rudimentary scenes — for instance, Mr. Cage yelling “Hey!” from his porch at a creepy figure in the woods stalking him and his son — elicit giggles from the audience.

The supporting cast is better, but this isn’t a movie designed to showcase the acting talents of the assembled players. Instead, pay close attention to Mr. Proyas’ lighting and set design as well as the incredibly intense disaster sequences that dot “Knowing.” (Fair warning: “Knowing” is a heavy PG-13 and not for the faint of heart.) As with the rest of the Proyas oeuvre, the movie looks fantastic.

Unlike the rest of his oeuvre, the movie ends with a bang, a shock that few will see coming and that tops anything we’ve seen from the director previously in its complexity and daring.

★★★

TITLE: “Knowing”

RATING: PG-13 (disaster sequences, disturbing images and brief strong language)

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