ALL THE OLD KNIVES – Review
ALL THE OLD KNIVES is an intense political thriller with a relatively unusual framework. Eight years before the principal action, terrorists hijacked a commercial plane in Europe and wound up killing themselves and over 100 others. We learn that from the get-go. The mystery comes from newly-discovered evidence that there may have been a mole in the CIA who contributed to that disastrous failure. The head honcho Victor Wallinger (Laurence Fishburne) assigns his top agent Henry Pelham (Chris Pine) to head up this new inquiry. Primary suspects among his old colleagues are his then-girlfriend Celia Harrison (Thandiwe Newton) and their veteran department head Bill Compton (Jonathan Pryce).
Pine approaches the task with great reluctance. Newton left him and the spy biz right after the incident, morphing into a suburban mom. Pine still pines for her from afar. The screenplay includes many flashbacks to the time of the tragedy, showing different perspectives and collateral relationships and transactions that may or may not prove who was culpable. Beyond that, the less you know the more intense and suspenseful the viewing will be.
Director Janus Metz and his editing team did well at bouncing us between the film’s then and now without losing coherence. Good work also from the makeup and wardrobe crews makes the casts’ ages look appropriately different for the two periods presented. Among performances, Fishburne’s fans won’t get to see much of their guy. Pine plays it appropriately blank, telegraphing little of his character’s agenda, like a good spy should. Newton is the one who shines brightest, as she continues to defy the calendar. Though closing in on 50, in scenes of that earlier period, she looks no older than her early thirties, even in the less-clad moments.
The film is based on Olen Steinhauer’s source novel and screenplay. I haven’t read the book, but I’d bet his adaptation preserved its best in the transition to our screens. The script is taut, low-key and keeps us guessing until the end. The story presents more emotional layers and complexities than most espionage films. Not only are the embers of Pine and Newton’s old romance in play, but many other friendships and alliances that were meaningful to the players beyond their professional dimension. There’s less action than in most genre entries (no Jason Bourne heroics) but it’s offset by the suspense and tensions throughout Pine’s investigation, resulting in a highly realistic, human-scale package. If you’re seeking entertainment more cerebral than visceral, this one’s a solid choice.
ALL THE OLD KNIVES opens in theaters and streaming on Amazon Prime on Friday, Apr. 8.
RATING: 3 out of 4 stars