Knox Goes Away (TIFF) Review

Michael Keaton’s noir thriller, Knox Goes Away, gives the veteran actor one of his best roles as a dementia-afflicted hitman.

PLOT: A hitman, Knox (Michael Keaton), discovers he has a fast-acting form of dementia and only has weeks of lucidity left. Shortly after this diagnosis, in a moment of confusion, he botches a hit, killing both his partner and a civilian. As if that weren’t bad enough, his estranged son (James Marsden) shows up on his doorstep needing help covering up a murder.

REVIEW: Knox Goes Away has a premise that’s becoming increasingly popular: an aging killer develops dementia and must put things right while he can. Liam Neeson played a similarly afflicted killer in Memory last year (itself a remake), and Nicolas Cage played another character like this in The Dying of the Light. Neither of those films was great because they focused on everything but the protagonist’s condition. Knox Goes Away is different. Michael Keaton, who also directs (from a script by Gregory Poirier), focuses on Knox and his ever-diminishing faculties. Knox knows he only has a little time left where he’s still the man everyone thinks he is, and the film follows him as he puts to work a desperate plan to save his son.

Keaton could have played Knox as aloof and cold, but perhaps sensing this is a cliche, the character is instead shown to be urbane and sophisticated. He gets along well with his killer partner (a terrific Ray Mckinnon) and is so valued by his former handler (Al Pacino) that when he loses focus, he has people to rely on whom he knows won’t cross him.

While the movie may go a little overboard in establishing Knox’s killer bonafides (he’s a Gulf War Vet with not one but two PhDs), Keaton’s so charismatic a star that it all works. There’s probably an action movie version of Knox Goes Away that could have been made, but I prefer the moody drama that Keaton crafted. He’s supported by a slick cast, which includes an engaged Al Pacino, who works in enough quirks (such as eating Chinese food in his bathtub) to keep what could have been a stock character interesting. Keaton does this with pretty much the whole cast, in that the people chosen are less obvious but inspired choices, such as Cold War’s Joanna Kulig as a prostitute Knox sees every week and Suzy Nakamura as the acid-tongued cop investigating the murders Knox is connected to.

Knox Goes away review

Meanwhile, James Marsden plays Knox’s estranged son in an uncharacteristically intense role. He’s always been highly likable. We’re on his side even before we find out that the guy he killed is a white supremacist pedophile (in a darkly humorous moment, Knox jokes that if his son had already buried the body, he would have dug him up just to kill him again). You get that Knox has an extended family worth protecting, and as opposed to a Liam Neeson movie where the hero would use brute force, Knox uses cunning and intelligence.

Through it all, Keaton keeps the pacing tight, never going overboard with the tricks he uses to depict Knox’s failing memory. As this is an actor’s showcase, he doesn’t need to present the star at the top of his game (similar to the recent Dopesick). While a more action-driven movie might have made it an easier sell commercially, Keaton’s made an intelligent, tough-guy noir that would make the genre icons proud.

Knox Goes away review


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