THE STORY – When the CIA discovers one of its agents leaked information that cost more than 100 people their lives, veteran operative Henry Pelham is assigned to root out the mole with his former lover and colleague Celia Harrison.
THE CAST – Chris Pine, Thandiwe Newton, Laurence Fishburne & Jonathan Pryce
THE TEAM – Janus Metz Pedersen (Director) & Olen Steinhauer (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 101 Minutes
By Nicole Ackman
”I thought you were here to see if we still had that old spark,” Celia tells Henry during their conversation, but it’s clear that they do. Janus Metz Pedersen’s “All the Old Knives” certainly contains alluring romantic chemistry between its two leads – more than a certain “erotic thriller” that came out earlier this year. With a screenplay by Olen Steinhauer based on his novel, the film follows a CIA agent reunited with his ex-lover as he tries to find the mole that contributed to a tragedy eight years before.
The hijacking of Flight 127 was a disaster that cost over a hundred lives when the CIA office in Austria failed to rescue those on board. Years later, Vick (Laurence Fishburne) assigns Henry (Chris Pine) to find the mole from amongst his former colleagues that gave vital information to the terrorists. The main suspects are his old supervisor and mentor, Bill (Jonathan Pryce), now living in England, and Celia (Thandiwe Newton), Henry’s former lover, who now lives in California with her husband and two children.
Olen Steinhauer’s screenplay jumps around a lot, cutting between the hijacking itself, the CIA office during the time of the catastrophic event, and Henry’s current investigation into the past. He meets Bill in a pub two weeks earlier, but the emotional heart of the film occurs in a mostly empty restaurant between Henry and Celia. The filmmakers do an excellent job of keeping the timeline clear despite all of the shifting perspectives as the story carefully unfolds to reveal hidden truths and betrayals.
A lot of the film falls into the tired trope of the good CIA versus the evil terrorists without delving into the CIA’s moral and ethical nuances. However, the plot continually thickens and becomes more interesting as it deals with the agents’ personal lives and how they’ve been dealing with the aftermath of the hijacking eight years later. Luckily, the film is as focused on the romance as it is on the political action, giving the audience an emotional connection to the character and, thus, the story.
Pine and Newton’s chemistry and the romance between Henry and Celia is the best thing about the film by far. While Henry is supposedly there to find out if Celia was the mole, he’s equally interested in figuring out why she left him eight years ago after the hijacking and has created an entirely new life for herself. It creates a fantastic tension in their current scenes together, while the flashback scenes establish the great chemistry between them. There’s even a steamy sex scene between them, which is a shockingly rare occurrence in films nowadays, which only highlights how passionate they are towards one another and how once such deep-rooted feelings could possibly come undone.
Pine proves once again that he is a capable leading man as he takes his more character-focused approach to Henry to create a multi-layered performance. It’s not super demanding work, but it’s a reminder that he’s actually one of his generation’s better “leading man” types, even though many try to box him into supporting roles. Throughout the film, we see Henry become more emotionally tortured, and he does an excellent job of portraying his inner struggle between his duty to the CIA and his feelings for Celia.
The film’s last half hour has one twist after another, and just when you think you have figured out the truth, another reveal occurs. It starts to become a little too much by the end as one’s suspension of disbelief begins to crumble under the weight of so many twists, but the story wisely focuses on the characters and the journeys they’re going on. This, along with Pine and Newton’s performances, keeps the film engaging even though the filmmaking is very standard at times. “All the Old Knives” is not reinventing the spy thriller genre, but it is a refreshingly sexy film full of tension, and plenty of fun reveals that will keep you guessing until the end.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton have great chemistry in this sexy thriller, filled with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing how it’s all going to end for their characters.