Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton Heat Up Amazon’s Sleepy Thriller ‘All the Old Knives’
Arguably the best thing about Amazon Prime’s sleepwalking thriller, “All the Old Knives,” is Swedish singer Amanda Bergman’s overly cool rendition of The Cure’s hit, “Lovesong” over the closing credits. The music has a dubious, haunting quality to it, and the lyrics, “Whatever words I say / I’ll always love you”, hint at what this film tries – and fails – to do, which is to communicate how the love and betrayal sometimes operate in tandem.
The story involves the investigation of a CIA mole eight years after a hijacking incident claimed the lives of over 100 innocent people. Vick Wallinger (Laurence Fishburne) is the boss in Vienna, and he asks Henry Pelham (Chris Pine) to close the book on an embarrassing situation by tracking down Bill Compton (Jonathan Pryce) and Celia Harrison (Thandiwe Newton) to see if the either (or both or neither) of them provided inside information to the hijackers. Also, Henry must “do whatever it takes” to diffuse the mole. Wallinger won’t utter the word “kill,” but Henry soon hires Treble (Michael Shaeffer) to take out Celia if she’s the mole.
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Adding to the complexity of the mission, Henry and Celia were romantically involved in Vienna, where they both worked during the hijacking. Will their reunion reignite their old spark? Cut to two weeks earlier when Henry meets Bill in London. After they meet, Bill places a warning call to Celia, telling her that Henry is coming.
“All the Old Knives” is directed, badly, by Janus Metz, who is working from a screenplay by Olen Steinhauer, who adapted his own novel for the film. The story oscillates between Vienna eight years earlier and a contemporary sequence where Henry interviews Celia in an empty, posh restaurant in the Carmel-by-the-Sea wine region. (Celia quit the spy game after the hijacking, got married, and moved to California). Metz may envision Steinhauer’s story as a meandering thriller with double crosses, but the film is edited in such a way as to defuse the tension and possibly confuse the viewer. (Pine’s graying hair and beard signify the period, but you’d think the actor, who serves as executive producer, insisted on the many close-ups basking in his matinee idol beauty.)
The scenes between Henry and Celia are interesting because there’s not much else to chew on in this flimsy thriller. Ordering a burrata with cilantro oil, blood orange, and maple-glazed farmhouse bacon, Henry invites Celia to “live a little” and try the bacon. He feeds her with his fork, and it’s more sensual than their sex scenes that appear later in the film. But as they talk (and talk) about what happened all those years ago, the story comes down to who phoned the enemy as the hijacking unfolded.
All the old knives (Stefania Rosini/Amazon Studios)
The suspects are few. One of their colleagues committed suicide. One is above their pay grade. One, which might be viable, is discredited for some forgettable reason. The “whydunnit” – what would make someone betray his country? – is more intriguing than “thriller”, but not by much because “All the Old Knives” doesn’t provide enough backstory. There is talk of Henry’s previous job in Moscow where he first made contact with Ilyas Shushani (Orli Shuka) who is integral to the hijacking case. And Celia recounts her previous unhappy assignment in Dublin, her only job before Vienna. Bill’s complication is his never-before-seen wife, who provides him with an excuse during the hijacking incident for him to leave, and for someone to use his phone to call the enemy contact.
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However, Metz never generates much tension as this investigation develops. Henry and Celia talk about a relationship based on trust, but betrayal – of their relationship or their country – never finds any purchase. Does Henry believe Celia is guilty – or does he want to? Were they really in love in Vienna? He tells her, in one of the film’s most vague and laughable lines, “You’ve convinced me…that you’re very convincing.” Newton goes through the whole scene with a pained look on his face.
Viewers will also be harmed. “All the Old Knives” never crackles, even when something sinister happens to incapacitate the mole. And even if the espionage reasoning is justified by or for the character(s), it’s not very satisfying to the audience. The love between Henry and Celia is limited to a few passionate kisses and a few scenes in bed. Both characters are too underdeveloped to be worth an investment.
Pine tries, unsuccessfully, to make Henry cool and confident, but he also has an arrogance about him that belies his agenda. His self-righteous nature is shown to be smug and selfish. In contrast, Newton gives a more nuanced performance, using his eyes to convey Celia’s percolating emotions that range from anxious to relentless. In support, Laurence Fishburne and Jonathan Price are woefully underused in their few scenes.
“All the Old Knives” should keep viewers guessing, but instead, this boring movie is nothing but mundane.
“All the Old Knives” is streaming now on Prime Video. Watch a trailer below, via Youtube.
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