If you are craving the old days of romantic thrillers with a healthy dose of European espionage, Janus Metz Pedersen’s All the Old Knives is for you. While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, the lead performances from Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton do enough to keep you interested.
Pine stars as CIA agent Henry Pelham. His boss Vick (Laurence Fishburne) tells him the agency has reopened the case on a 2012 terrorist hijacking of a Turkish Airlines flight where all the passengers and terrorists were killed. Headquarters suspects a mole inside the Vienna CIA station and Vick asks Henry to investigate Celia (Newton), Henry’s former lover.
Henry meets the retired and now-married Celia in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California at an intimate restaurant to discuss that day in 2012. As the night progresses, new revelations come to light about their relationship as well as the events that led to tragedy. The film jumps back and forth between the present-day dinner, Henry’s interview with their former boss and Celia’s mentor Bill (Jonathan Pryce) two weeks prior, and that fateful day in 2012.
The general predictability of the premise isn’t really the selling point. The film harkens back to 70s Cold War paranoia thrillers like The Parallax View or Three Days of the Condor, but much more focused on the primary relationship. The film’s secret weapon is clear motivation. Each character acts within reason to their character and never makes a drastic action in the of something broad or abstract like “maintaining freedom” or “preserving Democracy.”
While the central mystery of the CIA mole isn’t too difficult to see coming, the chemistry of the two leads is precisely what drives the film. The love and carnality necessary between Celia and Henry is paramount to believing everything that transpires. Both actors sell the gambit well.
Pine continues to grow as an actor, leaning in to his aging looks without seeming like he is in any way older. He wears his experience in his eyes as someone who has seen things that would shake most men. Pine is able to tread a clear delineation between the 2012 and present-day versions of himself.
Newton is unsurprisingly great. Generally underutilized in most projects, she is initially presented as a femme fatale, but is eventually revealed as someone who has too much of a conscience to be involved in spycraft. The 2012 version is a woman with the world in front of her, while her present-day is someone who has separated herself completely from that life.
Fishburne and Pryce don’t have much substance to work with, but their familiar faces are always a welcome sight. Orli Shuka portrays the film’s big-bad, but even his motivation is clear and understandable. Shuka has a standout scene with Pine where the whole time I wished he was in the film more.
The film is nicely lensed, if plainly directed. Exterior shots of Vienna are sparse, but the older architecture does get a showcase from time to time. Carmel-by-the-Sea has a beautiful introduction, only to be ignored for the rest of the time.
Propelled by the lead actors and their chemistry, All the Old Knives is a throwback romance thriller that will appeal to an older audience. It’s okay that it’s not any more than that.
All the Old Knives is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.