Bad aftertaste sours ending of Proyas’ ‘Knowing’

Tragedies happen every day: planes crash, fires rage out of control and terrorists destroy on a whim. But what if those events weren’t as random as people would like to think? What if they could be predicted? What would that mean?
That is the basic plot premise of “Knowing” and while it is an interesting concept, the film struggles, not between the theories of determinism and randomness, but between genres. Is this a thriller or a fantasy or a deep-thinking drama?
The whole plot hinges on a little girl writing a bunch of numbers on a piece of paper that goes into a time capsule. Flash forward 50 years to the present when the time capsule is opened and John Koestler (Nicolas Cage, “Bangkok Dangerous”), a professor at MIT, is left to decipher its meaning when his son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) brings it home. He accidentally discovers that the numbers aren’t as random as they first appear and it challenges his scientific mind on a personal level.
Unfortunately, the film opens with some laughably clichéd tropes like the pale, dark-haired girl who doesn’t fit in being the one with the freaky connection to the plot. Even worse are the stereotypical shots like the one where the same little girl is dressed up in a frilly dress and stands at the side of the crowd holding a yellow balloon. And the shot of Cage staring broodingly into the camera as he listens to classical music just seems pretentious.
Yet while this might not sound like a promising beginning, the majority of the film is actually entrancing. It captivates the audience, as they are not sure where this is all going. There are powerful scenes and some intriguing philosophical questions posed. right up until the end. Then the movie collapses into a cheesy resolution that derails all the strength the movie builds up.
There is a great soundtrack with an original score that hammers its way through the film with passion. There are some awesome shots that feel like a classic science fiction film from the 50s, as in one sequence at night in Caleb’s bedroom that almost feels like a dream. There are even magnificent “bad guys” who are terrifying and fascinating at the same time (even if the main one does resemble Spike from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” a bit too much).
And the special effects are amazing. So much so that the catastrophes that occur within the plot’s parameters are horrible to watch. They are so brutal, despite their obvious CGI effects and brief flashes of horror, that it is almost as traumatic as watching “United 93” and reliving the grief of 9-11. They are absolutely devastating in their emotional intensity and the human carnage they leave in their wake.
Even Cage’s acting seems perfectly tailored for this role: a character with personal tragedy who struggles to make sense of the world. While he can sometimes come off too heavy-handed, here he is anxious and shell-shocked at various turns that only serve to amplify the pacing of the film. This movie is an intense ride with some great depth to it.
But all of this is for naught. In the end, the film struggles between a high concept and what ultimately becomes a lowbrow delivery despite the superb special effects. It is never a good sign when five different writers have to come into a project to try and help the script, and true to form, the film is weighed down by writing that tries too hard to round out the plot. And frankly, there is simply nothing that forgives that ridiculous last shot and that overdone ending-not even the very clever religious themes and questions woven into the fabric of the plot.
Ultimately, viewers are left shaking their heads in wonder and bemusement at the outlandish culmination of the plot’s efforts. All the money in the world for special effects and all the writers’ attempts at depth cannot salvage that lasting impression of absurdity.