ALL THE OLD KNIVES
R, 102 mins.
2022, R, 102 mins.
Chris Pine as Henry Pelham / Thandiwe Newton as Celia Harrison / Jonathan Pryce as Bill Compton / Laurence Fishburne as Vick Wallinger / Corey Johnson as Karl Stein / Jonjo O'Neill as Ernst PulDirected by Janus Metz Pedersen / Written by Olen Steinhauer, based on his novel
Sometimes one of the best pieces of movie magic is to simply plant the camera on two limitlessly attractive lead actors with great chemistry and set in an equally opulent setting.
And Chris Pine
and Thandiwe Newton are indeed two incredibly photogenic performers. They
appear early on in the new Amazon spy thriller ALL THE OLD KNIVES seated
opposite of one another in a posh restaurant that overlooks magic hour lit
Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. They
both were CIA agents back in the day and madly in love, that is until
deranged terrorists attacked a plane in Vienna and killed everyone on
board. Mysteriously, the woman
exited the man's life in the immediate aftermath of this tragic event,
with them reconnecting for the first time in over eight years at the
Oh...and both of
them have deeply rooted suspicions in the other for having ties to the
So much for a
ALL THE OLD
KNIVES is an adaptation of the 2015 Olen Steinhauer novel of the same name
(he adapts the screenplay here as well), and right from the get-go this
Janus Metz Pedersen (BORG VS MCENROE)
directed affair is refreshingly more of a slow-burn, character driven, and
patient espionage thriller that's not really concerned at all with the
more basic and frequently overused elements of the genre (like, say, the
larger than life comic book inspired action of the James Bond series). ALL THE OLD KNIVES operates in a more low key and understated
manner in terms of being a more cerebral experience, teasing an
intoxicating cat and mouse game of wits between the aforementioned lovers
to see which one will crack in front of the other first.
Pedersen's film is perhaps a
drama first and an intense thriller second, but I admired its relative
stylistic restraint in being a spy film that's more pared down and adult
audience oriented. To be fair, that approach does affect the film's overall
forward moving momentum (it often feels longer than its running time
reflects), not to mention that some of the creative choices here are a
mixed and ineffective bag. But
I appreciated how ALL THE OLD KNIVES is more John le Carre than Ian Fleming
(not that there's anything wrong with the latter, mind you, but change is
good for the soul).
Again, the whole
arc of the film is cleverly intriguing in the way it shows the ever
escalating mistrust that two former spy lovers share that were once
wrapped up in a joyous relationship while doing everything to defend their
country. The film begins in a
flashback to 2012, during which time we learn of that Vienna based plane
being hijacked by suicidal terrorists.
The CIA station there is called upon to look for a solution to this
dire situation, led by Wallinger (Laurence Fishburne) overseeing his team,
which, yes, includes the lovers (soon to be ex-lovers) in Henry (Pine) and
Celia (Newton), as well as their colleague in Bill (Jonathan Pryce).
They're tasked with using every lead and connection at their
disposal to end this hijacking and bring it to a peaceful close, but
unfortunately for all they fail, leading to all of the 120 people on board
(including the terrorists) dying. Very
quickly afterwards, Celia broke things off with Henry and abruptly left
him. They both went their
separate ways, never speaking to each other for years.
Celia went on to marry another man and have a family, whereas Henry
remained single and had difficulty processing his separation anxiety.
We then flash
forward to 2020 and Wallinger has reached out to Henry to inform him that
new information has been brought to light in the form of a mole within
their own CIA office having direct ties to the terrorist incident.
He wants Henry to seek out and interrogate other members of the
office one by one, which is made all the more pressing when one of them
mysteriously committed suicide post-terrorist attack.
Of course, Wallinger even wants Henry to come face to face with his
former flame and partner in Celia, so a staged meet-and-greet between the
pair is established by CIA brass that outwardly looks cordial, but
inwardly is all a ruse to see whether or not Henry can get Celia to
confess any potential involvement. Of course, complicating everything is the shared history
between the pair, not to mention that the ethereal spark that they
believed left them eight years previously still seems to be there. As their conversation matures into reflections of their time
spent in Vienna it slowly segues into mind games of oneupmanship to see if
one of these souls is in fact a back stabbing mole.
On paper, ALL THE
OLD KNIVES is both (a) a tale of lost love that's doomed for ultimate
failure and (b) a spy procedural that's concerned with picking up all of
the loose pieces of the larger puzzle of that terrorist tragedy that cost
so many lives. It's one thing
for Henry to make attempts to aggressively extract the truth from his
targets, but it's a whole other matter to do so with a woman that he was
once intimate with. That
latter aspect is what makes watching ALL THE OLD KNIVES engaging, and a
lot more so than the standard nuts and bolts of the CIA investigation that
feels like it has been appropriated from other and better past
globetrotting spy thrillers. And
like most mysteries, the film calls upon the viewer to make sense of it
all and deduce the identity of the real culprit alongside Henry's
investigation. The absolute failure of the CIA to stop the terrorists is
ripe with interest, but ALL THE REAL KNIVES lives and breathes in the
quieter moments between Henry and Celia in that impossibly sumptuous
Californian seaside restaurant. There's
also the added and perhaps more tantalizing mystery within the larger
mystery of just why Celia dumped Henry all those years ago after the
attack. Is she really a mole that worked with the enemy?
Or, is it Jonathan Pryce's fidgety statesmen that seems uneasy when
Henry presses him? Or, is it someone else entirely that Henry can't quite
I like what the
Danish born Pedersen brings to the table here, bringing an artful look and
flavor to this espionage tale. He
also wisely lets Pine and Newton do most of the heavy lifting, and both do
a solid job of making their on-screen chemistry and their characters long
and problematic history with one another feel immediately palpable
throughout. I appreciated the
age reversing casting here too, seeing as we have had so many thrillers
and action pictures over the years where the older male lead takes on a
much younger female love interest (Pine is nearly a decade younger than
Newton in real life). Regardless
of age gap (and as alluded to earlier), the camera simply loves these two
stars, and on top of their ample physical appeal both Pine and Newton have
to play vulnerable, but determined characters that simultaneously have to
process their past lives together as well as digging up a well spring of
old wounds in the process. And
as the story progresses it becomes clear that both are hiding their own
unique secrets and struggle to keep their mutual guards up.
Newton has always been a headstrong actress and she's super in her
tricky role, but I also relished at seeing Pine break away from his more
high profile blockbuster roles (like in WONDER
WOMAN and the STAR TREK
reboots) to sink his teeth into meatier and more psychologically complex
parts; he's quite stalwart here.
That, and Pine and Newton are really easy to look at here.