Amazon Studios’ All The Old Knives is a life and death espionage thriller with love, albeit tragic, at its core.
The suspenseful story follows CIA agent Henry Pelham (Chris Pine) as he is forced to investigate former fellow agent and old flame Celia Harrison (Thandiwe Newton) due to a leak of sensitive information that aided a hijacking that cost over 100 people their lives. Eight years later when Ilyas Shushani (Orli Shuka), a Chechen extremist is captured, he shares that there was an agent in the CIA that was the one to expose the information about Flight 127. Upon hearing the confession, CIA Chief of Station Victor Wallinger (Laurence Fishbourne) meets with Pelham and assigns him the task of uncovering the identity of the double-crossing agent.
Back for his second dramatic feature, Danish director, Janus Metz did what he set out to do; make a spy thriller, unfortunately, it falls a bit short. Though it did have some redeeming qualities, mainly the cinematography. There were times when there were quick clips of Celia and Harry making love which serves the romantic subplot but it was placed awkwardly or during scenes that were focused on something else entirely. Despite the awkward cuts, Metz did a decent job at merging the time periods of the past and present which eventually becomes a linear narrative at the end. While the film does have an emotional depth about the struggle of two people trying to do the ‘right thing’, it’s hugely overshadowed by the overdone premise of the ‘government versus evil Muslim terrorist’ trope we’ve seen in films time and time again, like in American Assasin and Sicario: Day of the Soldado.
The aforementioned redeeming quality was Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s cinematography and it was the highlight of All The Old Knives, especially in the seaside restaurant where the two spies, Celia and Harry, shared an intimate dinner reminiscing over the past relationship and rehashing the unfortunate day of the Flight 127 hijacking. Since their date, or “interrogation” as Celia called it, was the focal point of the film, we’re able to witness the beautiful Californian sunset through the floor-to-ceiling windows in the near-empty restaurant.
All The Old Knives is an adaptation of a novel by the same name by Olen Steinhauer. After reading the book, the producer Steve Schwartz, Paula Mae Schwartz, and Nick Wechsler were highly intrigued and asked Steinhauser if he’d write the script which he accepted. Though Steinhauser never really envisioned an adaptation for this book, it’s safe to assume the film follows the novel well.
The film starts at a slow pace and only picks up in the third act, where the majority of the secrets are spilled and the web of lies is unravelled. If spy thrillers with romantic drama are of interest to you then All The Old Knives is it. If not, then there isn’t much you’d miss out on besides the cinematography.
All The Old Knives will open in select theatres and globally on Prime Video on April 8.
by Kadija Osman
Kadija Osman is based in Toronto, Ontario and is currently completing her undergrad in journalism at Ryerson University. She enjoys writing about film and TV. When she isn’t watching Timothée Chalamet’s filmography, she is probably reading romance and thriller novels or ranting about the disappointing cancellation of E!’s The Royals. Her favourite films include Kingsman: The Secret Service, Lady Bird and Ready or Not. You can find her on Twitter: @kadijaosman_ and Letterboxd.