‘Knox Goes Away’ movie review: Michael Keaton is the still centre of this maelstrom of memory and forgetting

‘Knox Goes Away’ movie review: Michael Keaton is the still centre of this maelstrom of memory and forgetting

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A still from ‘Knox Goes Away’

John Knox (Michael Keaton) was given the nickname of Aristotle when he was in the Army doing deep cover intelligence work because he read so much philosophy. The nickname stuck even after he quit the Army to work as a contract killer for an unseen boss called Jericho. He meets his work partner Muncie (Ray McKinnon) at diner and there are the usual Tarantino-esque conversations about life, the universe and everything including consuming news via print or online… I feel you brother!

Knox Goes Away 

Director: Michael Keaton

Starring: Michael Keaton, Al Pacino, Marcia Gay Harden, James Marsden, Suzy Nakamura, John Hoogenakker, Joanna Kulig, Ray McKinnon, Lela Loren

Story line: A hitman is diagnosed with an aggressive form of dementia and has to sort out his affairs before the long goodbye

Run time: 114 minutes

Just as you settle in for a noir (with the attendant wailing sax and neon) about a hitman with a touch of angst, you notice the little things — not “Royale with cheese” or “Le Big Mac”, but Knox’s slight hesitations and confusions. He tells Muncie he needs to go away for some personal business and visits a doctor who tells him (Knox) he is suffering from a form of dementia which progressing fast.

The doctor gives Knox just a couple of weeks during which his lucid periods would get shorter till they are finally gone in a fog of forgetting. There surely must be a sub-genre of films featuring amnesiac assassins from the Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne to Liam Neeson’s Martin Harris in Unknown.

Knox decides to set his house in order, but there is one last job to do. It is his one chance at redemption and rapprochement with his estranged son Miles (James Marsden). As his memory fades, (not quite like the melting glaciers in Kurt Wallander’s mind) Knox is in a race against time to do the final job right. There is no margin for error, as his friend and recruiter Xavier (Al Pacino) says.  

In the other end of town, Detective Emily Ikari (Suzy Nakamura) is investigating two murder scenes that might or might not be connected. There is a three-body problem at one site and a frenzied stabbing of particular brand of neo-Nazi scum at the other.

Knox Goes Away, Keaton’s sophomore outing after 2008’s The Merry Gentleman (also neo noir, also about angsty assassin) is an oddly touching, meditative film. About fathers, sons and daughters, the beauty and wisdom of books, the film is darkly humourous. The acting is excellent and it is lovely to see Pacino ramp it up, living an enviable best life. Marcia Gay Harden as Knox’s ex-wife conveys her affection in her two scenes while Joanna Kulig as Annie, Knox’s Thursday date, is the requisite register of foxy. Marsden proves his acting chops riffing comfortably off Keaton.

Keaton, directing himself, has drawn out a magnificent performance (how does that even work?) in all Knox’s little and grand flourishes. Knox Goes Away is well-thought out, scripted and acted film. It is the kind of film you could watch multiple times, taking away some grain of thoughtful delight with each viewing.

Knox Goes Away is currently running in theatres

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