‘Knox Goes Away’ Turns Assassin Genre on Its Ear

Michael Keaton does double duty in smart drama fueled by regret, redemption

Hollywood’s fascination with assassins shows no signs of letting up.

Consider the “John Wick” franchise as Exhibits A, B, C and D. (And you know E. is coming soon…)

“Knox Goes Away” tackles the genre from a fresh perspective. Michael Keaton directs himself as a hired killer facing an implacable foe – dementia.

How he orchestrates his final days makes for an unpredictable drama that eschews familiar action beats. It also reminds us that Keaton is a double threat who rarely taps the other side of his skills.

Knox Goes Away (2024) Official Trailer - Michael Keaton, James Marsden

Keaton is John Knox, your garden-variety assassin with something pressing on his mind.

He finds himself making mental mistakes of late, a no-no in his line of work. A battery of tests confirms the worst. He not only suffers from dementia, but it’s a subset of the disease that acts rapidly.

He has just weeks, not months, before his mental faculties “go away.”

Knox wants to spend his remaining days steering his cash to his estranged family members. That includes his adult son, Miles (James Marsden), who has his own problems. He just murdered his teen daughter’s 32-year-old lover, and he splattered his DNA all over the crime scene.

We also get to know the detectives investigating the murder Miles committed. Meet Detective Emily Ikari (Suzy Nakamura), a stubborn soul who poses problems for both Knox and Miles.

“Knox Goes Away” might seem like a hardboiled thriller on paper, but it’s more methodical in its approach. At 72, Keaton can still be an action hero (think “The Flash“). Here, he’s focused on Knox’s redemptive arc.

Gregory Poirier’s screenplay never dazzles, but it sets up the various character arcs with cold efficiency. Knox isn’t the warm and cuddly type, but Keaton makes sure we feel the regret baked into his diagnosis.

He was, by his own admission, a “lousy father,” and his dedication to his craft meant living a lonely existence.

His best friend is the mysterious Xavier (Al Pacino), a fellow crook who comes off so curmudgeonly you think he couldn’t hurt a fly. That’s a storytelling flaw. Period.

Other characters help define Knox’s final days, including the proverbial prostitute with a heart of gold (Joanna Kulig) and his conflicted ex-wife (Marcia Gay Harden, excellent despite her tiny screen time).

Like most assassin-themed movies, we’re meant to bond with Knox despite his cruel line of work. He doesn’t like to hear any details about his future victims, and the screenplay suggests they’re all asking for it anyway.

It’s the kind of wobbly morality Hollywood too often shares of late.


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There’s nothing woke, per se, about the drama, but one sequence stands out. Detective Ikari dresses down a colleague for using the term “guys” to refer to several people. When he spits out a pronoun cocktail in return she barks at him for living in the past.

The moment brings the well-paced story to an unnecessary halt.

Otherwise, “Knox Goes Away” is too tidy for its own good but always entertains. Keaton the director has a sharp eye for composition, and he’s smart enough not to over-emphasize style over substance.

The actor’s previous directorial effort, the underrated 2008 film “The Merry Gentleman,” also featured a kind-hearted assassin. We’ll leave the psychological questions aside for now.

“Knox Goes Away” is a sturdy sign that Keaton should spend more time behind the camera.

HiT or Miss: “Knox Goes Away” offers a sly spin on the assassin film genre, steered with a steady hand by star-director Michael Keaton.


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