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The Man Who Wasn’t There: A TIFF Review of ‘Knox Goes Away’

September 12, 2023Ben MK

Memory can be a tricky thing. Our memories can be our greatest source of sorrow or our greatest source of happiness. Some people might try their hardest to repress certain memories, while others would do anything to hold onto the precious memories that they have. Memories can motivate us, but they can also traumatize us. And as far as movies like Dark City, Total Recall and Solaris are concerned, they can also make for some genuinely compelling storytelling. It's subject matter that filmmakers have drawn from for more than just the sci-fi genre — and in the case of Knox Goes Away, director Michael Keaton utilizes it to tell one of the most memorable noir mysteries in years.

The story of a hitman by the name of John "Aristotle" Knox (Keaton), the film sees its titular character struggling with the rapid onset of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. A condition that has been causing him to suffer from bouts of memory loss, it has also led to John botching his latest job and accidentally killing his friend and partner (Ray McKinnon). Deciding that it's a sign to finally call it quits and cash out, John starts planning his exit, something that will prove tricky given the repercussions of the profession. But when his estranged son Miles (James Marsden) shows up at his doorstep one day asking for help in covering up an accidental homicide, John finds himself unexpectedly tasked with finishing one last assignment before he retires for good. Calling on his good friend, former thief Xavier (Al Pacino), John sets about getting his affairs in order before dementia overtakes him. But with the L.A.P.D. investigating the crime and his mind quickly failing him, will John make it in time?

A different type of twisty-turny crime thriller than audiences might be accustomed to, the result easily ranks as one of Keaton's best movies, whether in front of or behind the camera. And with a stellar supporting cast that also includes Marcia Gay Harden as John's ex-wife, there's ample on-screen talent to back him up. Suffice to say, Knox Goes Away may well be the best genre film of its kind since Christopher Nolan's Memento. And given the admiration for that 2000 masterpiece, that's certainly not an easy comparison to forget.

Knox Goes Away screens under the Special Presentations programme at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 1 hr. 54 min.

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