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TIFF Review: ‘Knox Goes Away’ is a Captivating Character Study From Michael Keaton

Any film that does something interesting with genre trappings goes a long way with me. With Knox Goes Away, a lesser movie with this premise would have been a chore. We’ve seen the older killer losing it done countless times before. Here, there’s a new spin, as well as the capable hands of Michael Keaton as director and star. It adds up to one of the more compelling little flicks at the Toronto International Film Festival this year.

Knox Goes Away could easily have been something disposable. In fact, in lesser hands, we might have seen something out and out bad. Instead, Keaton and company find not just the humanity, but the hypnotic quality in the story. This was one of the surprises of the festival for me, considering how it could have gone wrong.

John Knox (Keaton) is a contract killer who has been incredibly reliable throughout his career. From the military to this shadier life, he’s gotten hard work done with no mess. Unfortunately, that time is coming to an end, as he’s been diagnosed with a a very aggressive form of dementia known as Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease. He’s already making plans to get out of the life when a job with his partner of sorts Muncie (Ray McKinnon) goes wrong. His boss and friend Jericho (Al Pacino) is understanding, but no one quite understands how bad Knox is getting. Then, his estranged adult son Miles (James Marsden) arrives at his door, covered in blood.

Needing his father to help him cover up the murder of the scumbag that impregnated his teenage daughter, Miles is giving Knox one last chance at a connection. As Knox deteriorates, he puts a plan into motion that requires precision, made all the more difficult by his condition. While the police investigate his job gone wrong and Miles’ crime, it’s a race against time until Knox literally runs out cognitive function.

Michael Keaton is excellent in this quietly powerful role. You believe him both as a deadly man of action as well as someone confused and angry by a degradation of their mental state. It’s never overplayed, either, which could have easily been the case. Keaton turns in the sort of steady work that’s made him a star over the years. You’ll truly appreciate him here. James Marsden is fine, while Al Pacino gets to display some nice chemistry with Keaton. Supporting players here, aside from Ray McKinnon, include Marcia Gay Harden, John Hoogenakker, Joanna Kulig, Suzy Nakamura, Jay Paulson, and more.

Serving as director, Keaton takes the script from Gregory Poirier and keeps it very tight. He also allows for you to follow along with the plan Knox has in place. If you’re not able to decipher what he’s up to, the final act has some nice surprises. If you are, like I was, it still holds up and is just as compelling. In many ways, this is almost novelistic in its approach. Character matters above all, so Keaton and Poirer focus in on making us fascinated by Knox. It’s a choice that pays off in spades by the end.

Knox Goes Away is a far cry from the sort of throwaway Liam Neeson type vehicle that it could have been. Instead, it’s one of my favorite TIFF titles this year. Go figure!

SCORE: ★★★1/2


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Written by Joey Magidson

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