Michael Keaton, after making his directorial debut with 2008’s The Merry Gentleman, steps behind the camera for only the second time with his latest film, Knox Goes Away in which he also delivers one of his finest and most poignant performances as a man facing a rare form of fast moving dementia, but who is racing the clock to save his estranged son’s life before it is too late.
World Premiering tonight at the Toronto Film Festival, Keaton directs an exceptionally fine cast in a terrific noirish drama in which he plays John Knox, a professional contract killer who finds his skills diminishing rapidly including a hit job gone wrong in which his momentary confusion leads him to accidentally shooting and killing his partner Thomas Muncie (an excellent Ray McKinnon) and leaving behind three dead people and a bloody crime scene he tries to clean up. A medical diagnosis of a rare condition that causes a form of fast moving dementia leads the doctor (Paul Perri) to suggest he get his affairs in order for a life that could be ending in a matter of weeks, not months.
A family crisis rears its head though when his estranged son Miles Knox (James Marsden in a highly dramatic turn) kills a man in a fit of rage after confronting him about a suspected rape of his 16 year old daughter. Panicking, he turns to his father for help, and even with his ever-fading faculties John Knox goes into action telling his son precisely what to say to authorities, as well as taking care of each detail in creating a scenario where his son could not be successfully connected to the murder. To do this Knox also enlists the help of an old pro and friend, Xavier Crane (Al Pacino) who carefully advises him on every aspect of what must be specifically done.
Enter Detective Emily Ikari (a wonderful Suzy Nakamura) who is on the case with her partner (John Hoogenakker) as they find some loose ends in the previously noted crime scene where the three people were found shot to death, and find they have John Knox in their sights, but can’t quite pin down the facts. Meanwhile Knox is preparing for his final days including a visit to his ex-wife (Marcia Gay Harden in a brief but moving scene), and fading memories of better days.
To say more about the ever twisting plot would be critical malpractice, but I can only say certain developments I never saw coming yet they all add up in screenwriter Gregory Poirier’s sensational storytelling. This is the kind of absorbing old fashioned, solidly crafted and immersive dramatic thriller that you might have seen Bogart or a Robert Mitchum do in their later years. It is easy to see what not only attracted Keaton to the role, but also why he might want to take creative charge to make sure it is done right. He succeeds admirably on both counts and directs himself to a brilliant, but perfectly understated and flawless portrayal of a man trying to redeem himself for all the mistakes and bad choices he made, but now given one last moment, with the clock ticking, to somehow make things right. The casting could not be better, and it is so nice to see Pacino in a supporting role (mostly on phone calls but defiantly not phoning it in) that once again reminds us of why he is an acting treasure, no matter how fleeting his screen time. Marsden, riding on the wave of his Emmy nomination for his hilarious role as himself in Jury Duty, here gets a meaty and emotionally charged role as a family man in crisis and delivers on all cylinders. Nakamura steals her scenes as a cynical detective, and Joanna Kulig also makes an impression as Knox’s faithful lover.
Producers are Michael Suger, Ashley Zalta, Trevor Matthews, and Nick Gordon. The film is looking for a distribution deal and that would seem to be a no-brainer for a smart buyer.
Title: Knox Goes Away
Festival: Toronto Film Festival
Sales Agent: CAA
Director: Michael Keaton
Screenplay: Gregory Poirier
Cast: Michael Keaton, Al Pacino, James Marsden, Marcia Gay Harden, Suzy Nakamura, Joanna Kulig, Ray McKinnon, Lela Loren, John Hoogenakker
Running Time: 1 Hour and 54 minutes