“All the Old Knives”, which was released on Amazon Prime in last week, works best whenever it revolves around the increasingly uneasy interactions between its two main characters. Both of them need to be discreet as much as possible because they cannot trust each other that much despite their close relationship in the past, and we cannot help but wonder more about their true motives and emotions below the surface as the story is unfolded step by step.
They are Henry Pelham (Chris Pine) and Celia Harrison (Thandiwe Newton), and a series of flashback scenes in the film show us what happened when they were working for CIA in Vienna 8 years ago. At that time, they were romantically involved with each other, and they were about to be more serious about their relationship, but then something terrible occurred. An airplane was hijacked by a bunch of terrorists, and, despite the diligent efforts from many CIA officials in Vienna including Pelham and Harrison, those terrorists eventually came to kill all the people in the airplane including themselves.
Quite devastated by this horrific outcome, Harrison promptly left CIA and then has led a fairly normal family life in California during next 8 years, but then she is approached by Pelham, who still works in CIA in contrast. Some time ago, the figure behind that hijacking incident was eventually captured, and it was revealed from this figure that there was actually someone who leaked some crucial information to those terrorists. Pelham is subsequently ordered to investigate a number of people who worked along with him during that time, and it seems that Harrison is one of the prime suspects because of her rather unexplained departure from CIA right after the hijacking incident.
When Pelham and Harrison later meet for a dinner at one posh restaurant looking over a beach, they cordially interact with each other at first, but Pelham soon comes to reveal his real intention, and Harrison is not so surprised about that. As they talk more about what they and others did at that time, they become more guarded to each other, and we cannot help but notice someone in the background, who may be the figure with whom Pelham talked on the phone before coming to the restaurant.
As its two main characters are shrouded in more caution and suspicion, the screenplay by Olen Steinhauer, which is based on his novel of the same name, frequently bounces amid different time points. We see how Pelham and Harrison came to fall in love with each other while serving for their country, and we also observe how things were urgent and desperate for them and many other CIA officials in Vienna at that time. They all did try their best, but then they unfortunately lost their only chance to save those hostages in the airplane because of that information leak, and one of them even committed suicide not long after that.
The movie also gives us a number of brief flashback scenes involved with those hijackers terrorizing their hostages, and that is where the movie stumbles more than once. In addition to often feeling gratuitous and redundant, this overtly sensational part does not fit that well with the overall low-key tone of the film, and I think the movie could be more well-rounded if it instead paid more attention to how the main characters of the film were affected by the incident in one way or another.
Although you can easily guess the answer to its main mystery even before the movie arrives at its last act, its two lead performers still engage us via their own presence and talent. As shown from several acclaimed films including “Hell and High Water” (2016), Chris Pine, whom I still dearly remember for his laid-back supporting turn in “Bottle Shock” (2008), has steadily demonstrated that he can do a lot more than playing Captain Kirk in the recent Star Trek series, and he effortlessly embodies the gray human qualities of his character. On the opposite, Thandiwe Newton, who has been always dependable since her breakout performance in “Flirting” (1991), is solid as her co-star’s equal acting match, and I would not complain at all if the movie just observed whatever is going on between their characters instead of resorting to all those unnecessary flashback scenes.
In case of several other cast members in the film, they are mostly under-utilized on the whole, though they did their best for filling their respective spots. While Laurence Fishburne is merely required to look stern and serious in his brief appearance, Jonathan Pryce manages to leave some impression as another possible prime suspect besides Newton’s character, and the special mention goes to Orli Shuka, who is quite chilling during a certain crucial scene around at the end of the story.
In conclusion, “All the Old Knives”, which is directed by Janus Metz Pedersen, does not bore us while maintaining its poker face along with its main characters for a while, but it eventually fizzles once it unfolds every card held behind its back, and that is disappointing compared to what is so competently developed before that point by Pine and Newton. Watching these two wonderful performers slyly pushing and pulling each other on the screen was a pleasure for me, but their good efforts are not served that well by the film on the whole, and I would rather recommend Louie Malle’s little masterwork “My Dinner with Andre” (1981) instead. It is just simply about two people talking over a dinner from the beginning to the end, but that is a much more interesting and fulfilling experience, and I urge you to check it out if you have not watched it yet.