Two very different movies about dementia screened on Sunday at the Toronto International Film Festival — Michel Franco‘s Memory and Michael Keaton‘s Knox Goes Away, both of which I enjoyed to varying degrees.
Memory is the real winner here, and not just of the day, but possibly of the entire festival. The film left me sobbing in my seat, and I needed a few minutes to collect myself as the credits rolled. It stars Jessica Chastain as a single mother in New York City who is followed home by a strange man (Peter Sarsgaard) after a party one night. When she wakes up the next morning, she finds him on the sidewalk in front of her apartment, having slept there overnight.
His name is Saul, and he doesn’t even know why he followed her home. As it turns out, he has dementia. At first, Sylvia wants nothing to do with Saul, remembering him as a predator from her past. But memory is a strange thing, and it can play tricks on us sometimes, as it does in this film. Over time, Sylvia — who works at an adult daycare center for those with special needs — comes to care for Saul in more ways than one.
The always-welcome Sarsgaard won the Best Actor award at the Venice International Film Festival over the weekend, and it’s easy to see why — he’s excellent. Chastain may not have won Best Actress, which went to Cailee Spaeny for Priscilla, but she matches Sarsgaard every step of the way, delivering yet another fantastic performance on the heels of her underrated turn in last year’s Netflix thriller The Good Nurse.
Josh Charles and Merritt Wever are also quite good in supporting roles as Saul’s brother and Sylvia’s sister, respectively, while 13-year-old Brooke Timber, who played a younger version of Natasha Lyonne‘s character in Russian Doll, is one to watch as well, having really impressed me here.
I don’t want to say much more about the film, as you should savor its small surprises, but it’s a beautiful, touching love story that absolutely broke me, and left me thinking that I wouldn’t wish dementia on my worst enemy. It’s a truly tragic illness, one where thoughts may be fleeting, but a distinct feeling remains. Such is the case with Memory as well. This one will stick with you.
As for Knox Goes Away, it’s a much more plot-driven movie as opposed to character-driven. The great Michael Keaton plays John Knox, a veteran hitman who is given mere weeks, not to necessarily live, but before his mind abandons him, as he has a particularly aggressive form of dementia. His friend and frequent collaborator Thomas Muncie (Ray McKinnon) convinces him to do one last job, but naturally, things go sideways, and Thomas is killed, leaving Knox to clean up the mess — and not very well, either. He’s getting sloppy.
Of course, Knox’s estranged son Miles (James Marsden) doesn’t know that, so when Miles accidentally kills a white supremacist who raped and impregnated his teenage daughter, he naturally turns to his father for help. Knox had decided to keep his diagnosis quiet for now — from his girlfriend (Joanna Kulig), his ex-wife (Marcia Gay Harden), and especially his mysterious boss, who doesn’t really factor in here. The only person he confides in is an aging thief named Xavier (Al Pacino), who promises to help the Knox family in any way that he can… and the Knox family needs all the help it can get.
Not only is John being eyed for a triple homicide by the cops (scene-stealer Suzy Nakamura and John Hoogenakker), but evidence is mounting against Miles as the prime suspect in a separate murder case. Just how will Knox wiggle out of this one? Let’s just say his military background will prove invaluable.
At 112 minutes, the movie runs a little long, dragging in the middle, and some of the techniques Keaton uses to convey the effects of dementia are a little cheesy, but the Oscar-nominated actor keeps us invested in the action, and the ending is just clever enough to merit a recommendation from me. Knox Goes Away isn’t a great movie or anything, and it does feel a little familiar, but I liked it on the whole and left satisfied considering my modest expectations.
Knox Goes Away: B