Nicolas Cage is back. This time a different set of trouble waits for him, but don’t worry. The more things change the more they stay the same. There’s still a scene where he looks at an old document with a flashlight. His contract stipulates it. It says he has to carry a flashlight and he has to look at ancient documents that only he can decode.
Full disclosure: I haven’t seen the National Treasures, so I’m taking blind guesses about their plot. But know1ng Nicolas Cage and my memory of those previews I think I’m making pretty safe assumptions here that they feature him decoding things in the dark.
This is a really entertaining film from Alex Proyas, director of Dark City, which was a very special, original movie from the late 90’s that’s dear to my heart. It was very good science fiction, something that you can repeatedly enjoy and never get tired of watching. Roger Ebert has a special place for Proyas, and he talks about him very seriously. His DVD commentary for Dark City is fun to listen to and I recommend it.
But guys like Proyas are only as good as their last movie, right? We can’t just talk about Dark City. We have to talk about I, Robot. Speaking of the best sci-fi; Proyas was also responsible for some of its worst.
With Know1ng, he’s back on solid ground in the sci-fi department. Like Dark City it deals with a big subject that starts out very inconspicuously and grows into an epic finale. In stories like these, we don’t get the answers we always want. We just have to accept them and move on. A little girl hears voices and writes down the numbers that she has in her head without any idea of what they mean. It takes an MIT scientist to decode it. So right away I have questions. Why does a little girl at an elementary school get dumped with this task? Why not just bypass the little girl, and start whispering into the ears of an MIT scientist instead? There aren’t answers to that. I’m trying to accept that we don’t live in a perfect world or a world where a sci-fi film that hinges on unexplained events should answer for itself. The best we can hope for is a world where Nic Cage will lead the way by asking questions and seek the answers in strange documents which he can see better with a flashlight.
Cage is one of those actors who is a lot of fun to talk about derisively, but not enough is said about his humor. He can straddle the dramatic and the comedic with ease. For him there doesn’t seem to be a lot of distinction. Usually he pulls it in a bit, other times he goes over the top, like the case in The Wicker Man or Bad Lieutenant 2. He’s comfortable with that tension. I think the best example in Know1ng occurs when he tries to explain what the numbers mean to his MIT friend. There’s a look on his face that says, we’re both MIT scientists, colleagues if you will, standing around talking about something that could never exist, but I need you to take this seriously for me. And yet in that same look it’s like he’s on the verge of laughter.
From that description it sounds like he’s just badly acting. I’m afraid that’s too shortsighted of an analysis. I think the reason he’s so popular and such a megastar is he can be funny and serious. It’s hard to put in words and say out loud especially if you are at a party or something, but I believe what I’m saying is that watching Nic Cage’s acting is a lot of fun. The guy gets it. He’s one of those guys that rewards a close and careful viewing of his performance.
I would never say that to anybody in real life. Their reaction would be identical if I told them I just found a numeric system that can predict when the world will end. Which would be harder to accept as the truth?