American Dad – On Reviving the Memory of a long lost Breed

Image credits: RETIREMENT PLANS: If you've gotta go (to the drycleaners), might as well go out with a cinematic bang.

A friend recommended Knox Goes Away (2023) shortly after I missed it in the theatres here in Egypt. It is a Michael Keaton movie, after all. I finally watched it at night and was quietly impressed but, more than that, intrigued. Something more was clearly going on behind the thematic scenes, and I mulled it all through the night until I finally figured it out the next day while having my morning tea.

By Emad Aysha
Just to fill you in, the movie is about a very professional assassin named Knox, who has just been diagnosed with an aggressive form of dementia. In the process, he screws up and accidentally kills his friend on a mission and tries to go into early retirement before the wolves come after him. And as if that isn’t bad enough, his son Miles (James Marsden) comes to him desperate for help – he’s just killed a man himself.

With his ailing memory, Knox works with an old confidante, played by Al Pacino, to exterminate the evidence of his son’s folly. (The murdered man slept with and impregnated the boy’s daughter and was proud of it; it doesn’t seem to have been ‘forced’). Hot on his tail for the first botched operation is a no-nonsense cop, a perfectionist Asian woman (Suzy Nakamura). Luckily, his plan comes fruit in the end, and his son gets off scot-free, although there’s a twist in the tail as Knox’s Russian mistress tries to rob him with the help of goons. Out of jealousy, it turns out!

HONOUR AMONG THIEVES: Al Pacino is still electric in this subdued role, and his own ruthless Russian mistress doesn't get the better of him either.

While the movie is sad as hell, it is surprisingly pleasant in the situation comedy mode, with weird camera angles to get you into a subjective frame to realise the satire on the sorry state of the human condition. Proper deep, substantive laughter and introspection, not slapstick or quipping. That’s a rarity, just like the movie's central theme, which is… the passing of the old-fashioned father figure. And hopefully, his rebirth.

There are lots of subtle hints here and there, ‘really’ subtle. The Asian cop always complains about her nagging mother; her father was a too-dedicated cop who got killed in the line of duty. Knox’s son disowned him after discovering what his father does for a living, although he was an exemplary dad. He was always there for him, teaching him what to do and how to be a man. He was initially a war hero and an educated guy nicknamed Aristotle when he was in the service.

You will note that the disgraceful daughter (Morgan Bastin) when she wants to go to the abortion clinic, insists that her father take her. Not her mom. There’s also the fact that Miles, pipsqueak that he is, doesn’t drink anymore and is a vegan. Hence, in the scene where he relishes the ribs Knox ordered, He’s one of those over-accommodating husbands they have nowadays, and that’s what created the vacuum that drove his (bitch) daughter to go to the other guy.

When you first saw the girl’s mother, you thought she was the girl. Very skimpily dressed and everything. It doesn’t pay to be the new dad and new husband these days. But there’s more to it than even that, I suspect. There’s race politics afoot, too.

The Asian American copy bosses around her very blond, good-old-boy partner all the time, and the forensics guy looks South Asian. At the same time, the computer tech person is an African American woman. Note also the dead dude is a Nazi, part of an Aryan network, and he specialises in seducing under-aged girls through the internet.

There’s also Al Pacino’s current life, a Russian, along with Knox’s paid-for woman he’s been with for the past four years. There’s got to be a significance to that, too. Knox himself fought in the Gulf War and has two PhDs. Why on earth does he resort to the line of business?

DADDY DEAREST: James Marsden in a perfectly cast role, the guy who went from the dumb version of Cyclops to a chip off somebody else's block!

America is a country that doesn’t take care of its heroes, and it’s a country that’s become so individualised you have to buy personal company now or import wives who are thankful for just having a roof over their head. I suppose you could say it’s the passing of the old-fashioned red-blooded American family. (There’s a very nice moment between Knox and his ex-wife, the still lovely Marcia Gay Harden).

Knox’s gun-totting partner is always adamant about the kind of scum they are hired to kill, so he’s a guy who thinks of himself as a hero protecting the nation, like a soldier. You can’t help but notice that Knox has a mentor-type relationship with his Russian mistress, always loaning her his books. Imagine his disappointment when she betrays him in the end. (The actress is actually Polish, Joanna Kulig).

Notice also the subtle hint about the phoniness of racism since the Nazi guy lives at a compound with a security guard who is Hispanic. He’s a racist because he’s self-righteous, seeing himself as the true American in a world where he no longer has any use – immigrants have taken his job.

The real problem isn’t immigrants diluting the culture; it’s the culture losing touch with itself – the values of hard work, family, and community. It’s like what you see in Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino (2008); the immigrants are ‘more’ American because they care for older people and people in need and want to work with their hands. (And they spit better, too).

DOWN BUT NOT OUT: Michael Keaten is the only actor who did the alternating personalities of Bruce Wayne and Batman properly, if you ask me.

This movie is just as morally heartbreaking and Christ-like in its sacrificial ending. Did I mention Michael Keaton directed it? I’ve always loved him since Batman, and this may be his way of getting back at the cold, individualistic anti-hero system that let him down… Hollywood!!

 

Emad Aysha

Academic researcher, journalist, translator and sci-fi author. The man with the mission to bring Arab and Muslim literature to an international audience, respectably.
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