Revelations of chaos to come

By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / March 20, 2009
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It's a Nicolas Cage movie, so, admit it, you're expecting crazy. You have no idea. The star's latest, "Knowing," starts off mildly ridiculous, ascends to the full-blown ludicrous, and finally sails boldly off the edge of the absolutely preposterous. Throughout it all, Cage's grim sense of purpose stays in place, as does his hairpiece. You have to admire such dedication amid apocalypse, even as you're hooting through your fingers in disbelief.

Based on the trailers, "Knowing" at first glance appears to be an amalgam of Cage's last few movies, mixing the numerology games of the family-friendly "National Treasure" series with the future-tense prophecies of last year's dud thriller "Next." Trust me, though: Where this movie goes, you do not want to take a child along.

Cage plays a Boston-area astrophysicist and single dad named John Koestler - works at MIT, lives in Lexington - whose young son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) retrieves an odd document from an unearthed time capsule at his elementary school. The sheet is nothing but a series of numbers, but John sees meaning in the randomness, deducing that the 50-year-old piece of paper has correctly predicted every major disaster between then and now, down to the dates, number of victims, and geographical coordinates. Three more disasters are yet to come. The last one looks like a biggie.

This knowledge allows Cage to dash around the Eastern seaboard, desperately trying to confirm his fears and convince others. An MIT colleague (Phil Beckman) and a young mother (Rose Byrne) - the daughter of the girl who wrote the sheet a half-century ago - are initially skeptical, but too many weird things are going on. Who are those creepy figures standing outside John's house at night, and what are they telepathically whispering to his son?

The director is Alex Proyas, who made a name for himself with the visual stylistics of "The Crow," "Dark City," and "I, Robot." The man's not a hack. "Knowing" takes itself so seriously that it's hard not to get the giggles, but then Proyas comes through with a breathtaking single-take sequence in which John watches a commercial airliner plummet to earth yards away and runs into the flaming wreckage searching for survivors. The same goes for a terrifying NYC subway crash, which the director choreographs as a catastrophic you-are-there experience.

Unfortunately, the film's human interactions are pitched at the same constant white-knuckle level - Cage has never seemed so stiffly absent - and Proyas keeps everyone jumping over plot holes. At times "Knowing" feels like the highlight reel for a longer but much less silly movie.

The story line keeps getting wider and wider in its implications, and at a certain point you realize it's fearlessly going all the way into - well, the Book of Revelation would make a handy study guide. "Knowing" works itself up into a thundering sci-fi/Christian metaphor in which both sides have equal weight, and it will be taken as oh-wow gospel by impressionable young audiences and those who believe (as this movie does) that we're all sinners except the kids. That audience may be quite happy to see Manhattan at last get what they think it deserves.

Proyas is a real filmmaker, though, and "Knowing" rockets along with urgency, if not realism or even common sense. At its lunatic best, the film's a version of "The Happening" in which something actually happens. At its worst, it's a bad-movie rapture.

Ty Burr can be reached at

KNOWING Directed by: Alex Proyas

Written by: Ryne Pearson, Juliet Snowden, Stiles White, and Proyas

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Chandler Canterbury, Rose Byrne

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 115 minutes

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

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