Someone who has been through the star system and back again is Michael Keaton, who brought his own directorial effort about a hired assassin—murder is definitely a trend on the fest circuit this year—in the frustrating “Knox Goes Away.” Keaton is such a stoic performer, a phenomenal actor whose low-key energy can sometimes be deployed to great impact by the right filmmakers. Interestingly, I don’t think Keaton the Director knows how to direct Keaton the Actor. He’s too laid-back here when “Knox” needs some heat, and the always-welcome James Marsden feels a bit miscast opposite him. Most of all, “Knox Goes Away” feels like a film that needed another rewrite or tightening in the editing room.
Keaton plays John Knox, an assassin with a serious problem. He has fast-moving dementia. He is starting to have blackouts, which is not the best condition for someone as meticulous as a paid killer needs to be. In a matter of weeks, he won’t be able to function at all, which means it’s time for him to cash out all his many illicit forms of payment like art and jewelry. As he turns to a friend (Al Pacino) to help launder the goods and get the money to the right people—mostly the family he left behind and his only ally, a prostitute (Joanna Kulig) he sees weekly—something more urgent drops into his life.
John’s son Miles (Marsden) shows up one night, covered in blood. He confesses that he confronted the man that raped his daughter and stabbed him to death. John, a man who has seen a few steps ahead his whole life, sets in motion a plan designed to set Miles free forever.
The plan is crazy, and designed in a way to make the audience unsure if the actions of our protagonist are calculated or the product of his dementia. The result is a script that’s intentionally muddled, but there’s a fine line between keeping an audience in the dark and playing games with them. This one crosses it in such a way that the final revelations feel cheap instead of clever. They’d be easier to take if John and Miles felt like real people or even charismatic archetypes, but they’re really just plot devices, dragged through a film so much that you won’t really care what happens to them. You’ll just want them to go away.