“All the Old Knives” is a romantic spy thriller directed by Janus Metz, based on the book by Olen Steinhausen about romantically involved CIA agents looking back at a mission that went wrong in a big way.
The story is set eight years after the 2012 hijacking of Royal Jordanian Flight 127 and the CIA’s mishandling of it, leading to the deaths of the passengers, the terrorists, and an agent who was onboard. The Vienna-based investigating team, made up of Henry Pelham (Chris Pine), Celia Harrison (Thandiwe Newton), Bill Compton (Jonathan Pryce), Ernst Pul (Jonjo O’Neill), Leila Maloof (Ahd), Owen Lassiter (David Dawson), and their supervisor Vick Wallinger (Laurence Fishburne), are initially clueless. Believing the terrorists had inside help, and only after the capture of the “mastermind” of the terrorist attack, Ilyas Shushani (Orli Shuka), is Henry is sent to interrogate now former agent Celia, with whom he suspects provided information to the hijackers. The story is them rehashing not only the entire day of the attack, but their relationship at the time as well which is when they (and we) realize that the truth is far more twisted than anyone initially thought.
One would almost think this would be an action filled, Bond-esque type thriller, but this isn’t that in the slightest. All the Old Knives keeps the suspense going through the conversation and keeps you wondering what happened, who did it – and why. There’s a deliberate omission of details to keep you guessing along about what’s coming next. Conversations that happened in the past are run in together with parallel conversations of the present to help accentuate the impact of certain revelations. Pay attention as well, to the visual clues being dropped, as they all take you down the traveled path of the story at hand with seemingly at every moment a twist is thrown in. We watch as the room gets smaller and smaller, making it almost impossible for the answer to escape as well as asking the bigger question – when it all comes down to it in the end, who do you trust?
While the scenery is a beautiful backdrop in the entire film, most especially the restaurant scene where the story unfolds, the film is held together by it’s two leads Pine and Newton. They are the glue that keep it pasted together, though at times to be fair, barely so as sometimes they seem to work with their characters chemistry, and other times they just seem to be working their characters. As well, with a supporting cast that includes Laurence Fishburne and Jonathan Pryce playing characters that are certainly within their element, Henry’s interrogation of Bill in a London pub, is devoid of any dramatic heft. Pryce, for his part, makes a spirited effort to give these scenes some depth, but the material just isn’t there. Fishburne barely plays a factor as he might have five minutes worth of screen time, which befuddles the mind as why wouldn’t you want to use someone of Fishburne’s caliber throughout the film to elevate it more. The other supporting actors are all given the briefest of moments, even when it’s revealed that Lassiter, David Dawson’s character, committed suicide over the whole fiasco.
So with struggles to streamline the story and stumbles a bit with it’s own chronology that’s likely better in the book, though it still carves out a decent enough spy-game intrigue.
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Review Screening: Friday April 1, 2022 ~Courtesy of Ginsberg/Libby PR and Amazon Prime
Amazon Studios will release ALL THE OLD KNIVES in select theaters and globally on Prime Video on April 8, 2022.