Alex Proyas’s KNOWING had the rep of being one of those awful treacly and misbegotten Nic Cage movies that make you despair of the strange, droopy-faced action star (until something like KICK-ASS reminds you of what a funny and interesting presence he can be) but I wanted to give it a shot, since I always felt Proyas had some kind of talent and some kind of unfulfilled potential.
How nice it would have been to be a lone voice of praise for the movie. The first half-hour, in fact, setting up its intriguing presence (a document written by a child in 1959 and sealed in a time capsule turns out to predict every major 20th Century disaster), is compelling and exciting, although there are aesthetic fractures peeping through the shiny veneer. In fact, maybe the shiny veneer is the problem: everything is so glossy and pretty, from Cage’s unnecessarily vast and gorgeous house, to his improbably beautiful dead wife (seen in home movie form). Proyas can certainly compose a striking shot, but as with his fellow antipodean Vincent Ward, he often seems to mistake aesthetics (literally, making visible, ie creating the perceptible form of an abstract thought or emotion) for prettification (and the CGI alien heaven at the end is horribly reminiscent of Ward’s WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, a dreadful milestone in the history of the trash afterlife). By the end, the movie had become a rather horrible exercise in post-9:11 apocalypse kitsch. If only they’d played to their strengths and marketed the film not as a CGI demolition derby, nor as a SIXTH SENSE boogeyrama, but as the film in which Nic Cage steals a door from a school gymnasium. Because you don’t see enough of that kind of thing.
The more attractive parts of the film are the mysterious ones, resistant at all attempts at neat wrap-up. The Men in Black characters never make any sense, which is pretty true to real-life accounts of such persons, but alas they’re not crazy in the evocative ways the real MiBs excel at.
“After grinning madly at me for what seemed like ages — but probably only a few seconds — the man’s whole body jerked, then he said, ‘Have you got insurance? Is it now?’ His voice was most odd. Like a robot’s — jerky and without feeling. Looking back, I’d say it was more like a computerized voice. You know, the sort that says, ‘Printing completed’”.
Adele thought there was something very peculiar about this (“Is what now?” she thought, mystified), but politely said that her parents would know about insurance but they were out, suggesting that he came back later to talk to them. At that he seemed, quite suddenly, to “sweat from every pore”, removing his hat to wipe his forehead with the back of his hand — revealing a completely bald, and totally white, head. The florid “complexion” was now revealed to be a thick layer of badly applied stage makeup, some of which came off on his hand. Still smiling fixatedly, he looked her in the eyes and said: “Can I see a glass? Of water?”
~ from The Mammoth Book of UFOs by Lynn Picknett.
Nothing in MEN IN BLACK or KNOWING or THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (the real-life accounts of which are swarming with MiBs — none appear in the movie) compares to this kind of Lynchian absurdity, which admittedly might be harder to deploy in a conventional narrative movie.
UK buyers: Knowing [DVD] 
US buyers: The Mammoth Book of UFOs (Mammoth Books)