All the Old Knives Movie Review: Chris Pine, Thandiwe Newton elevate a talky espionage drama
Though clandestine dealings are its prime focus, All the Old Knives stays away from using that as an excuse to employ tried-and-tested action movie tropes
Danish filmmaker Janus Metz Pedersen's new feature, All the Old Knives, streaming on Amazon Prime Video, makes a strong case for not mixing one's professional and personal lives. Its proceedings hinge on the relationship between two former lovers, Henry Pelham (Chris Pine) and Celia Harrison (Thandiwe Newton), who also happen to be colleagues at the CIA. It aims to solve two mysteries: The identity of the mole responsible for a tragedy-causing terrorist attack and the reason that caused the couple to drift apart.
It helps that Henry and Celia are played by two of Hollywood's classiest, most unpredictable actors. Chris Pine is at his most restrained, bringing the right degree of maturity and vulnerability to a character who is seemingly grappling with a lot while trying to put on a dignified front. Complementing him well is Thandiwe Newton, as a woman tormented by the remnants of an agonising past. She knows something Henry doesn't but waits until the penultimate moment to unleash that vital piece of information.
Director: Janus Metz Pedersen
Cast: Chris Pine, Thandiwe Newton, Jonathan Pryce
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
It's a relationship powered by delightfully sparkling chemistry, and we feel its impact even when Celia has moved on to begin a supposedly fulfilling second life. When Henry is required to flush out the mole that caused tragedy aboard a hijacked airline, the 'interrogation' sounds more like one lover trying to find out why the other left. Henry is a far cry from the cocky and overconfident Captain Kirk from the Star Trek reboot. He is more like an extension of the soft, vulnerable lover boy Steve Trevor from the Wonder Woman films. It's possibly the latter that made Pine such an apt fit for All the Old Knives.
Infinitesimal attention is doled out to the supporting characters, and with good reason. When they occasionally pop up in front of Henry and Celia, we get a subtle hint of their significant involvement in the forthcoming events.
One can see why Janus Metz Pedersen was the right candidate to tackle Olen Steinhauer's script (based on his novel of the same name). A filmmaker who works best with subdued mood and character behaviour, Janus is dependent entirely on the actors' faces, gestures, and light and shadows to reveal or withhold information. There is a bit of the classical filmmaking at display here, like in that scene where one half of Thandiwe's face remains in shadow after one character's terrible secret is exposed.
My favourite moment -- the film's high point, really -- concerns two interrogation sequences carried out by one character in two different places and times, played out concurrently. At times Janus shifts between the past and present; at others, he keeps them both running side by side. This can get confusing at times, but thankfully the actors' varying hairstyles serve as time-markers just in case you blinked and missed the titles that inform the period.
Though clandestine dealings are its prime focus, All the Old Knives stays away from using that as an excuse to employ tried-and-tested action movie tropes. Perhaps these would've been forcibly incorporated and made things unnecessarily awkward by a lesser filmmaker. Instead, it favours old-school sleuthing to dig up unpleasant secrets from the psychological minefield of its two principal characters. All the Old Knives is more John Le Carre than Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum.