Loves and loyalties collide in slow-motion for Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton in this sluggish CIA thriller with promise but no payoff. There’s something of substance to be found in the old-fashioned folds of All The Old Knives, but it sure makes you work hard for it – every twist flattened out into one line of diminishing returns.
Walking into a bar that only serves wine to try and order a vodka martini, Henry Pelham (Pine) is a very Chardonnay 007 – colder, sadder and far less exciting than the stuff you see in other movies, though probably a lot more realistic. Part of the CIA for years, Pelham is drinking with his ex, former spook Celia Harrison (Newton). Reluctantly brought back together by the death-bed confession of a terrorist agent involved in a violent plane hijacking 10 years ago, the pair pour over the details of the case that once brought them together and ripped them apart.
Old grudges give way to old sparks, and the couple start awkwardly flirting over their salads (“this fish is… fresh”), all while Pelham digs around for proof to confirm his hunch that Harrison was once a double agent responsible for hundreds of deaths. To one side, he has an unnamed assassin ready to tie up the agency’s loose ends as soon as he gets the green light.
It’s weird to see a male action star play someone their own age for once, and Pine settles into the more seasoned dramatic role well, but Newton outshines him. With an even balance of strength and fragility she does a lot of the film’s heavy lifting. A great turn from Jonathan Pryce as another old colleague/suspect/sparring partner is another highlight, but the film rests whatever it has on the interplay between Pine and Newton.
Elsewhere, screenwriter (and author of the original novel) Olen Steinhauer could maybe have used some help to help tighten things up, just as director Janus Metz Pedersen is in sore need of an editor to lift the mood. Frustratingly black and white in the storytelling, All The Old Knives still comes off like an incredibly grey film – full of paper shuffling in dimly lit rooms and gently brooding silences that can’t quite carry the tension.
Something like Homeland with lazier writing and less interesting characters, there’s a great table-top cat-and-mouse game to be made from this. Watching Pine and Newton try and erotically spoon-feed each other bits of bacon while secretly trying to work out if they have to kill each other is more than enough to hang an entire film off. It’s just a shame the rest of the movie isn’t up to scratch.
- Director: Janus Metz Pedersen
- Starring: Chris Pine, Thandiwe Newton, Jonathan Pryce
- Release date: April 8 (Amazon Prime Video)