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“Knox Goes Away” Is Keaton Vs. Keaton

Written by: Hannah Tran | March 16th, 2024

Knox Goes Away (Michael Keaton, 2023) 3 out of 5 stars

There’s a certain cool confidence that few actors portray better than Michael Keaton (The Protégé). The paradoxical quality of careful effortlessness gives him what I imagine is an aspirational edge for many men his age. In his second directorial effort, Knox Goes Away, Keaton carves out a character that allows him to embody this more than ever. Starring as John Knox, a hitman who must get his affairs in order after he finds out he has a rapidly progressing form of dementia, Keaton’s smart demeanor holds the movie together. Yet it’s this lowkey approach behind the camera that also robs it of thrills.

The idea of a hitman with memory loss lays a solid foundation of tension throughout. However, this broader plot is quickly overtaken when Knox’s estranged son, played by James Marsden (Sonic the Hedgehog 2), shows up after killing a man, in a fit of rage, who had an inappropriate relationship with his daughter. While this initially feels like an odd divergence from the organic conflict of Knox having to cover his own tracks, it does allow for the heartwarming emotional resolution of him saving his son. It also creates a number of twists, some predictable and others less so, that are interesting not so much for their shock value than for the way they develop the characters and the story.

Michael Keaton in KNOX GOES AWAY ©Saban Films

However, the character development often feels in service of the supporting characters instead of Knox. While we know he is interested in philosophy and has a reasonably good moral compass for a hitman, we never really see him be overly vulnerable or change. The film seems more interested in bolstering the supporting cast than doing a more in-depth singular character study. Al Pacino (The Irishman) and Marcia Gay Harden (Tell It Like a Woman) give subdued performances in the somewhat unnecessary roles of Knox’s friend and ex-wife. Suzy Nakamura (Daisy Winters), as an intuitive and tough detective, and Joanna Kulig (Cold War), as a call girl who meets with Knox once a week, are the two characters that really work. However, while Nakamura’s character is one of the script’s most fascinating, her development also feels at odds with Knox’s own. Kulig’s character, however, matches Knox’s literary interests and coy persona in a way that pushes him more than any other person.

James Marsden is the most problematic of these. While typically enjoyable, he feels slightly miscast here. He comes off as overly dramatic in his early scenes, although he improves later on for a genuinely moving ending between him and Keaton. Still, the amount of time spent between the two is oddly brief. The scenes they do share, moreover, highlight some of the weaker dialogue, which, though occasionally clever or engaging, show when the neo-noirish script is trying too hard.

Joanna Kulig in KNOX GOES AWAY ©Saban Films

Keaton attempts to emulate the same noir sensibilities with the hardboiled characters, jazzy score, and dark aesthetics. But dark shouldn’t mean dull, and that is exactly how Knox ends up looking. Keaton as a director is perfectly adequate, although little things like his heavy reliance on fade-to-black transitions and needless text-on-screen reminders of how much time is passing show a certain lack of confidence in the audience.

But the good half of Knox Goes Away makes up for the bad. While the ensemble characters take away from the central story, they are never boring to watch. Though the screenplay sometimes feels overworked and tangential, it’s nevertheless compelling through the end. And even if Michael Keaton’s low energy cool behind the camera is only semi-successful, his low-energy cool in front of it makes the movie succeed.

Al Pacino in KNOX GOES AWAY ©Saban Films

Hannah Tran is a film critic and filmmaker from Las Vegas, Nevada. Hannah works as a film screener for the Las Vegas Film Festival and publishes an independent zine focused on highlighing Asian American filmmaking.

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