TIFF 2023 | Knox Goes Away (Michael Keaton, US) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman

Say what you will about Birdman, but as a legacy showcase for Micahel Keaton, it was right on time, mining the tension between its lead’s off-kilter charisma and unlikely superstardom. Knox Goes Away, meanwhile, is strictly Oscar bait, with Keaton serving as his own director in a showy role; the amnesiac gimmick and noir trimming evoke Memento, but those of us with slightly longer memories may get Sling Blade vibes as well (including from the final shot). 

An ex-military man turned crackshot contract killer, Keaton’s (John) Knox has been planning to leave the game for a while, and a diagnosis of a fast-moving form of dementia compels him to get his ducks in a row all the more swiftly. But there are other, unexpected complications as well, one involving his estranged adult son (James Marsden), and, beyond figuring out how to launder and redistribute several decades’ worth of ill-gotten gains, our hero is forced to improvise some tricky life-or-death schemes in the midst of full-blown memory failure and under the nose of the LAPD, who’ve already pegged him as a person of interest.

As a modestly produced mid-tier genre picture, Knox Goes Away is watchable, if predictable; what’s annoying is how assiduously it works to keep any kind of real moral ambiguity at bay. We’re assured—over and over—that nearly all of Knox’s victims were bad people, and that underneath his laconic exterior, he has decent, humane feelings about all the right things (including his kid). And when the plot requires some fresh corpses, they’re identified as thoroughly deserving  of their fates as well (i.e., Aryan child rapists). The result of so much wishy-washy dramatics is a movie whose quote-un-quote darkness is more a matter of murky lighting than any real nuance or insight about sin and redemption.