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TIFF 2023: Knox Goes Away Review

Michael Keaton is one of the most respected actors working today. He’s starred in successful action movies, comedies, and prestige dramas. 

Now, he’s taking his talents behind the camera for the neo-noir hitman drama Knox Goes Away. I’m always curious about what drives such renowned talent to step behind the camera. 

Keaton directed the 2008 feature The Merry Gentlemen and waited 15 years to helm another picture. The film sees an ageing contract killer coming to terms with reaching the end of his career. And it’s easy to see why this material would appeal to Keaton, who just turned 72. 

With its high-concept premise, intriguing theme, and a standout cast, Knox Goes Away looks like a can’t-miss. However, a few glaring issues prevent the film from reaching its potential. 

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John Knox (Michael Keaton) is a merciless contract killer and a brilliant tactician. He’s worked for decades without leaving any hint of evidence that police could trace back to his crimes. But in Knox’s line of work, all it takes is one misstep to send your life spiralling into hell. 

When the film begins, Knox is in rough shape. He’s been diagnosed with a type of rapid-onset dementia. Whereas Alzheimer’s disease sets in over years, Knox only has a matter of weeks before his memories dissolve into jelly. 

A by-the-numbers job goes off the rails when Knox loses focus and kills the wrong people. Recognizing he’s at the end of the road, he makes plans to disappear. But – there’s always a but in these movies – Knox’s estranged son Miles (James Marsden) shows up on his doorstep covered in blood.  

A neo-Nazi sexual predator impregnated Knox’s granddaughter, and Miles murdered the man in a fit of rage. To help Miles, Knox conceives an elaborate scheme to get the authorities off both their trails. But doing so requires him to hold his fraying mind together long enough to execute a near-impossible plan. 

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Knox Goes Away has such a promising premise that I was champing at the bit to see this movie. I love the concept of a cerebral assassin losing his mind and trying to keep it all together long enough to pull off one last job. And in the spirit of noirs, you know there’s no way this story ends well. The only question is how many people go down on this sinking ship. 

These ideas sound great on paper, but the film falters in its execution of these concepts. It’s a thriller that lacks thrills.  

Knox is a desperate man running out of time as he sets an impossible plan into motion. But you never feel the oppressive weight of all the trouble bearing down on him.  

A suspenseful story should leave me on the edge of my seat grinding my teeth. But in Knox Goes Away, scenes don’t build to an emotional crescendo; they just peter out. It all feels listless and doesn’t carry a fraction of the tension and suspense of any given scene in Uncut Gems. 

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Fortunately, the top-notch cast salvages the film. Al Pacino, Marcia Gay Harden, Suzy Nakamura, and Ray McKinnon elevate the stilted material into watchable status. With so much talent sharing the screen, I was never bored, even though I kept thinking about how great this film could be if they had stronger material to work off.  

Keaton’s performance is the linchpin that holds it all together, and he’s compelling every second he’s on screen.  

Knox is too hardened to ever show fear. He deals with his mental deterioration the only way he knows how: by taking control. But as he loses his ability to maintain his faculties, a quiet desperation sets in. Again, Keaton is marvellous every step along the way, making you empathize with the struggles of a loathsome man. 

The film touches on some compelling themes about making amends for wrongdoings. Can one grand act of selflessness tip the karmic scales back in Knox’s favour. And what if that gesture helped someone cover up a crime of their own? Desperation and redemption play a significant role in noir films, but Knox Goes Away doesn’t explore them to their fullest potential. Seeing Keaton and screenwriter Gregory Poirier dig deeper into these ideas would have made for a far more rewarding film. 

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There are times when everything comes together, and you receive a glimpse of the exciting movie this could have been. But those moments are as fleeting as Knox’s grip on reality.  

Knox Goes Away had its World Premiere as part of TIFF 2023. Head here for more coverage from this year’s festival. 



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