Title: All the Old Knives (2022) Director: Janus Metz Writer: Olen Steinhausen (book) Stars: Chris Pine, Thandiwe Newton, Laurence Fishburne, Jonathan Pryce
We interrupt our regularly scheduled program of nerdy fantasy, science fiction and fandom to take a look at something a little more straightforward. All the Old Knives is a romantic spy thriller based on the book by Olen Steinhausen about romantically involved CIA agents looking back at a mission that went wrong.
All the Old Knives is an unusual spy thriller with a narrative told through a series of flashbacks during a conversation between two former lovers. The story is set eight years after the highjacking of a passenger plane by Islamic terrorists that resulted in the death of everyone on board. Believing the terrorists had inside help, CIA agent Henry Pelham (Chris Pine) is sent to interrogate former agent Celia Harrison (Thandiwe Newton), whom he suspects provided information to the hijackers.
Through the conversation over dinner, a multi-layered conspiracy is unraveled. All the Old Knives is a kind of spy thriller whodunnit mystery. The film is character-driven, with the focus squarely on the conversation, the past relationships and the intrigues. There is no action at all, so if you’re expecting some kind of James Bond plot, this is not it! But All the Old Knives keeps the suspense going through the conversation and keeps you wondering what happened, who did it – and why.
Thandiwe Newton and Chris Pine are both excellent in the roles of the former lovers, and it is easy to believe that both time and trauma have taken their toll on both of them after the catastrophic hijacking. We also see veteran actor Jonathan Pryce as the disgruntled former agent and initial suspect Bill Compton and Laurence Fishburne as CIA station chief Vick Wallinger. Both are great in their roles and add to the sense of paranoia, hopelessness and old trauma the story is set around. Jonathan Pryce’s character in particular – a kind of father figure for Newton’s Celia, evokes the hopelessness of the work as an agent in a bitter and unforgiving world – chewed to the bone and then spit out into retirement.
All the Old Knives is a human drama – its characters are more believable than much of what we’re used to seeing in the spy thriller genre. It is calm and quiet, and while this might put off some fans of the spy thriller genre, it never loses the suspense.
However, All the Old Knives struggles a bit to find its tone and stumbles a bit in its own narrative, especially towards the last act, relying too much on flashbacks to tell the story. I would never think about spoiling the ending, of course, but I left the film feeling a little depressed and put off. But that might just be the nature of the story and this particular genre.
I would recommend All the Old Knives to fans of authors such as John le Carré, but maybe not Ian Flemming. The film doesn’t exactly try to evoke superior films such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Courier, but still, if you enjoyed those films, you might also enjoy this.
All the Old Knives premiers on Prime Video on the 8th of April.