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Knight and Day

Knight and Day

Over the weekend I went along to catch up with “Knight and Day” in a dutiful, unenthusiastic mood, but it didn’t take long for me to become disarmed by its nervy approach to action cinema tropes. While its body remains rooted in the basic tenents of spy vs. spy, setpiece-making, big star moviemaking, its head pokes up pretty far into surrealist action painting territory, about as far as might be permissible for a project with a responsibility to retain the outward appearance of a mainstream venture. The unsettling tone of the very first major sequence, an airplane flight on which everyone ends up dead except for Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, provides a tip-off to the film’s extreme nature, a signal that viewers should make further requirements of logic or conventional credibility only at their own peril. In a different mood I might not have signed on, but the devilish daring of director James Mangold induced me to capitulate without objection. As everything in the film is deliberately absurd, preposterous and pushed beyond any norms, it’s as pointless to raise objections about lack of realism or credibility in this film as it is in regard to Roadrunner cartoons. Ultimately, “Knight and Day” offers no detectable point or meaning, but it has something of the exhileration of a conventional jet approaching the sound barrier—if it went much faster or higher, it would break to bits, but the pilot knows just how far to take it. In a chat with my old friend Myron Meisel, we worked out what earlier film it most recalls– Clint Eastwood’s 1977 extreme action potboiler “The Gauntlet.” Widely derided in its time and still seldom mentioned among the director’s prime achievements, it was nonetheless one of the early Eastwood films that tipped some of us off to his largely unsuspected potential as a filmmaker. Like “Knight and Day,” it was action painting bumped up to the level of quasi-art in the eye of the right beholder.

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