All the Old Knives, 2022.
Directed by Janus Metz.
Starring Chris Pine, Thandiwe Newton, Jonathan Pryce, Laurence Fishburne, Corey Johnson, Jonjo O’Neill, Ahd Kamel, David Dawson, Nasser Memarzia, David Bedella, Alexander Devrient, Oscar Coleman, Anna Jones, Derek Siow, Karina Wiedman, and Orli Shuka.
Two CIA operatives, and former lovers, reunite at idyllic Carmel-by-the-Sea to re-examine a mission six years ago in Vienna where a fellow agent might have been compromised.
Right from the get-go, there is something offputting about All the Old Knives (directed by Janus Mets and a screenplay by Olen Steinhauer, who wrote the novel of the same name) resurrecting post-9/11 fearmongering regarding Muslim terrorists hijacking planes. That’s not to say that such situations should never be explored in movies, but here it quickly turns sour when it immediately becomes apparent that the narrative is only utilizing a horrific fictional event so it can reunite two CIA agents that were once in life in one final bid to unpack what happened on that fateful day, who the mole was inside their agency, and find closure in their relationship.
Seven or so years later, Henry Pelham (a dreamy Chris Pine, blue eyes highlighted as he switches back and forth between probing for answers and reflecting on his love life) meets his previous flame Celia Harrison (Thandiwe Newton, the MVP here, whether it’s dealing with her baggage from the unfortunate taking of Royal Jordanian Flight 127 and not being able to save any of the 100+ lives on board or engaging in steamy eroticism with her equally game costar that is surprisingly more intimate and explicit than anything found in the recently released Deep Water) at a seaside restaurant to discuss that day one more time.
Henry’s superior Vick Wallinger (Laurence Fishburne with little to do, something I’m sure he probably doesn’t mind given the quality here) reveals newly uncovered information implicating one of their Vienna station partners, Bill Compton (Jonathan Pryce), who had made a suspicious phone call the night of the terrorist attack. What ensues are spliced together sequences of Henry chatting to and questioning Celia and Bill that are also interjected with romantic and interrogation flashbacks to the day of the tragedy as he works through his list of contacts and informants to get information on the terrorists and what their leader is after.
If that makes All the Old Knives sound like a mess, well, it is a poorly structured story that frequently cuts away from any mounting tension or intrigue. It’s bad enough that we only ever come to understand surface-level demands from the terrorists, but the hijacking situation itself is both tastelessly depicted when it is briefly shown yet also lacking in dramatic urgency. Everything about the attack feels misguidedly disposable in the grander picture of the narrative.
Throughout the various conversations, it becomes increasingly clear that something is off. Attention is drawn to seemingly meaningless discussions about food and wine that make you think this is also partially a travelogue documentary until that happens so much that it becomes apparent what will happen by the end of this dinner. As the eventual conclusion draws near, several twists occur that characters acknowledge don’t even make sense, just as viewers will be thinking. Every major reveal is forced and something that characters could have just brought up earlier.
It’s a shame because Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton have compelling chemistry together, whether they are reconnecting, struggling to find a solution, or passionately fornicating in the heat of the moment. But the erotic drama doesn’t go well with plane hijacking thrills and searching for a CIA mole. It doesn’t help that All the Old Knives eventually devolves into all the old clichés (with all kinds of dull drama).
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com