All the Old Knives
- Director: Janus Metz Pederson
- Writers: Olen Steinhauer
- Starring: Chris Pine, Thandiwe Newton, Laurence Fishburne, Jonathan Pryce
Officially speaking, we’re out of the first quarter of the year of our Lord 2022. But All the Old Knives may as well have been released in the first quarter, when studios traditionally dump all their projects in which they have zero faith to make any lasting impact. This effect is exacerbated when a movie premiere on streaming services, when they can be buried amongst the platform’s endless library, which makes it harder for any film that’s barely promoted beyond an obligatory banner ad to make any lasting impact. Not that the film does itself any favors though, as it’s the kind of lazy genre exercise that barely justifies its existence.
Indeed, a sexy espionage thriller starring Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton, with supporting performances from the likes of Laurence Fishburne and Jonathan Pryce, should be more fun than the end result. Pine and Newton play Henry and Celia, respectively, two former CIA agents and lovers dealing with the fallout of a terrorist attack in 2012. Though the attack – in which over 100 civilians were killed on a hijacked airplane in Austria – is quickly shown in the film’s opening moments, the bulk of the film takes place 8 years later. Henry is given orders to interrogate the rest of the former team after a connected terrorist reveals that they had help on the inside.
This development should imbue the rest of the film with intrigue or suspense, but it ends up feeling like a dull conversation in which two characters clunkily dump exposition for nearly 100 minutes. Celia is Henry’s main suspect as the leak, so the present day involves his friendly interrogation of her and the flashbacks offer her perspective of the events. Their history together suggests that she may be the guilty party, and he simply doesn’t want to believe it, which is a reliable and recognizable character point in the spy genre, but director Janus Metz doesn’t add anything new to the proceedings here. Pine and Newton have palpable chemistry together, and Newton shines, especially in the finale, but both stars have turned in better, more memorable performances before.
The film, based on Olen Steinhauer’s book of the same name, brushes against America’s position as a global military presence in the way that we deal with terrorist threats and our fraught relationships with allies, but these themes are never given more than a perfunctory glance. It’s no accident that the terrorist attack in question takes place around the same time as the Benghazi attack, in which a number of Americans were killed and our foreign intelligence capabilities were called into question. But All the Old Knives has nothing grander to say on the matter, instead becoming a sort of character study. It’s just unfortunate that neither of those characters is ever very interesting. Perhaps the third-act twist is meant to be a jolt of dramatic tension, but when a dummy like myself can successfully predict that twist coming from the first act, what you’re left with is a film that still feels like it’s going through the motions of the genre.
Still, All the Old Knives isn’t a bad film overall. It’s the kind of film to fall asleep to on a Friday or Saturday night while browsing through Amazon Prime Video, an easily dispensable film that’s designed to scratch an itch for 101 minutes and quickly forgotten.
All the Old Knives will be available to stream on Amazon Prime on April 8, 2022.