KNOX GOES AWAY | USA | 2023 | 114m | English
Directed By: Michael Keaton
After a job goes horribly wrong, John Knox (Keaton) resigns himself to the knowledge that his contract killing days are over and starts gathering his assets to cash out. One night, though, his estranged son, Miles (James Marsden), shows up at his door. Covered in blood and barely able to speak, he begs his father for help covering up a violent crime. Knox sees only one way out, developing a tricky scheme with multiple steps that require precise execution. He enlists the confidence of his friend Xavier (Al Pacino) to keep him on track and begins a race against the clock — and his quickly deteriorating condition — as the police begin to close in with their investigation.
Keaton not only directs this smart script by Gregory Poirier (Rosewood) as a forlorn noir, but adds to his list of memorable performances, portraying Knox’s slow decline from the cold and calculating man who always has a plan, to the lost and confused father looking to make amends. Knox Goes Away makes its mark as a fresh entry into the genre, thanks to the compelling conceit of a man who’s not so eager to hold on to the memories of the things he’s done.
TIFF REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
RATING 3 out of 5
Knox Goes Away brings an interesting twist to the assassin genre that with a cast of Michael Keaton, James Marsden, Marcia Gay Harden and Al Pacino should result in an enticing thriller, but the screenplay fails to capture the excitement and potential the premise has, making it as forgettable as its lead character.
Films about assassins and hitmen have seen a recent resurgence in cinema thanks to the John Wick series. While many films have followed the action heavy, plot light formula of the John Wick films, this sub genre has seen more unique entries like Richard Linklater’s romantic comedy Hit Man, David Fincher’s neo-noir thriller The Killer, and even David Leitch’s action comedy Bullet Train. Though, Michael Keaton’s latest film offers a new perspective to the subgenre: that of an aging assassin, slowly losing grasp on reality. The premise itself is an intriguing concept, and while there is an interesting film to be made with this story, its lackluster execution prevents Knox Goes Away from being anything more than a passable and utterly forgettable thriller.
While most assassin focused films lean heavily into the action, Knox Goes Away instead delivers a character driven story. Yes, there are some great action sequences sprinkled throughout the film that allows Keaton to unleash his inner John Wick, which are some of the most entertaining scenes of the film, but the film is more concerned with John Knox’s rapidly declining ability to remember facts, think and make decisions due to his rapid onset dementia. Mixing dementia with the work of an assassin is an intriguing premise, creating mystery as we watch Knox prepare and execute a plan that he himself can’t fully remember. The screenplay is from Knox’s point of view that shares his forgetfulness with the audience, leaving them fully in the dark as to what his entire plan to save his son is until the film’s final scenes where everything comes together. It ensures an entertaining conclusion to the film’s final act, but it’s a slog to get to that point. There are moments between Knox and his estranged son, and his ex-wife which builds an interesting character drama, but it is too often weighed down by scenes with Knox enacting his plan to prevent his son from being arrested with no clear purpose as to why he is doing such actions. With the dementia lens of the story, you are willing to go along with the lack of purpose for a while, but the film takes too long to pull everything together, creating a more tedious experience than it should be due to its poor plot execution.
With Michael Keaton in the leading role, the film manages to work thanks to his performance. While it is far from his best performance, Keaton does a serviceable job as Knox, capturing the confusion and frustration faced by him as his illness begins to deteriorate his life as he knows it. Between this confusion that Keaton plays so well, an intimidating presence in the action sequences, and some heartfelt moments with his co-stars, Keaton provides what this film requires of him. James Marsden is good as Knox’s estranged son Miles as Marsden unpacks Miles’s contempt for his father as well as dealing with the life threatening consequences of a violent crime he committed that only his father can save him from. It’s a good role for Marsden that allows him to showcase his skills as an actor that has been too often overlooked in Hollywood. Marcia Gay Harden is great as always as Knox’s ex-wife, even if the film only really uses her for one good scene. But, the standout of the film is without question Al Pacino as Knox’s associate and friend Xavier, providing laugh out loud moments as he keeps Knox on track to complete his mission before he fully loses control of his mental capacity to do so.
Much like the film’s titular main character, audiences are going to struggle to remember Knox Goes Away shortly after the credits begin rolling as it fails to fully deliver on its promise. While it never crosses the line and becomes a bad film, with its premise, the screenplay truly falls short of being the exhilarating thriller and captivating character study it could have been due to its slow and lackluster execution of the plot. There is no denying that the concept is interesting, but an overdrawn execution of the story that goes on too long prevents Knox Goes Away from being memorable despite good performances from Michael Keaton, James Marsden, and a scene stealing Al Pacino.