All the Old Knives

A solid espionage thriller with impressive performances and convictions.

“All the Old Knives” is a thriller that doesn’t succumb to the formulas that “Ambulance” engaged in. It deals with old romances, a rescue mission gone horribly wrong, and the moles and informants behind those attacks. Or it could be something bigger and more complex. The plot isn’t as original as it suggests, but it does keep you involved and the performances from the cast-Chris Pine, Thandiwe Newton, Laurence Fishburne, and Jonathan Pryce-are able to match the tone and scope and persistence of the characters.

Writer Olen Steinhauer adapts his own novel about a 2012 hijacking of Royal Jordanian Flight 127, which goes horribly wrong, and years later, the CIA is still trying to solve the truth behind it. Pine is Henry Pelham, who may be the one to close the case as appointed by his director (Fishburne), and reunites with his ex-lover and another spy named Celia Harrison (Newton) for dinner in Vienna. They talk about how they can barely get their sources straight, and how it could be an interesting night at dinner.

An example of how Newton uses her emotions wisely is when Celia suffers from nightmares in which she was a passenger on that flight, and her two kids had to be taken away from the terrorists. This is one of the reasons why she left the agency. Other reasons I can’t say, but this reason is presented with real scares and tears, that it’s impossible to imagine her nightmares.

Examples of Pine’s convictions are when he visits his ex-colleague (Pryce) in a London pub about Celia’s part of the investigation and negotiation, and how he needs to get through to the facts. But when we see him at dinner, we can sense his stylish and charismatic nature.

“All the Old Knives” is nearly like an espionage thriller of “My Dinner with Andre,” as the dinner draws us into the past about how the two leads had a connection and how the hijacking went in that horrible direction. Did either Henry or Celia botch the rescue mission? Are any of those two involved? If not, who then? That’s how we’re drawn into the story.

We may have seen this kind of thriller before, which is why I was sometimes bored, but it does deliver on the notions and tensions by director Janus Metz Pedersen and composers Jon Ekstrand and Rebekka Karijord. Both Pine and Newton are able to explode with great intensity, as we’re convinced by their characters’ aspects, emotions, and stories. It’s all about how deep they’re willing to go to get to the bottom of this, and it’s usually riveting when the ominous music pulsates within the twists and turns.

It’s also the kind of thriller that keeps you thinking about the decisions that had to be made. The last half hour distinguishes those with a certain kind of complexity that it’s nearly unforgivable when we find out the reason the rescue plan was destroyed. I’ve just watched this on Amazon Prime Video, and I was still thinking about what had to be done and what will be done during the two time periods.

And back to my complaint of “Ambulance.” It was more of the same with its car crashes, explosions, behaviors, and insults. Unlike that film, “All the Old Knives” is patient, provocative, and emotional with two talented leads who both want people to view their characters’ insights and truths. And you couldn’t ask for more stylish people than Pine and Newton in those roles. I know I keep praising them, but they still carry the film well.

Rating: 3 out of 4.

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video and In Select Theaters

Categories: Thriller

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