A Review Of All The Old Knives

Thandiwe Netwon and Chris Pine in All The Old Knives

Thandiwe Netwon and Chris Pine in All The Old Knives
Photo: Prime Video

Chris Pine’s career as Jack Ryan came to an abrupt end after one movie, but much like George Lazenby and James Bond, that might just make him the perfect guy to play knock-offs of other iconic heroes. In All The Old Knives, Pine enters the film sporting perfect hair, an absurdly fashion-forward scarf and a dead-eyed stare, a look that’s more Derek Zoolander than Tom Clancy’s rugged, quick-thinking analyst. But director Janus Metz Pederson wastes little time on the spy world’s Blue Steel before tapping the less superficial qualities that Pine brought to Ryan and James Kirk, even if his role here feels more like a copycat of his better ones.

Most movies set in the “present” use their expected release date as the timeframe. This one’s explicitly set in 2020, its year of production, but it also includes frequent flashbacks to 2012, indicated by conspicuous pictures of Barack Obama on the walls of the CIA offices. In that 2012 “reality” a major Austrian plane hijacking ended with the deaths of everyone on board, and eight years later the case is reopened. Pine’s Henry Pelham is assigned by director Vick Wallinger (Laurence Fishburne) to figure out why it wasn’t solved the first time.

While there’s a possibility of a mole, the stronger likelihood is that Henry’s former coworker and lover Celia (Thandiwe Newton), or at least someone she knows, was the culprit. At a perfect golden-hour dinner meeting in Carmel, a conversation between the two, along with a series of flashbacks, starts to piece together what actually happened. Henry has stationed a hitman outside waiting to take Celia out if doesn’t like what he hears, but Celia, despite her retirement, is smart enough to come prepared with her own back-up.

It seems fitting that Amazon initially became a retail giant based on book sales, and as a studio now cranks out the cinematic equivalent of airport impulse-buy thrillers. A decade or more ago, an adaptation of Olen Steinhauser’s novel All The Old Knives might easily have competed with big-screen versions of John Grisham and Scott Turow bestsellers, but audiences no longer want to pay upwards of $20 per ticket for them—at least not in theaters. Streaming services stepped in to fill the gap, along with companies like Potboiler Productions, whose name couldn’t be more appropriate for developing films like this.

In addition to their intellectual tete-a-tete, Pine and Newton engage in a bedroom showdown as well, a welcome to join in social media grousing about a lack of love scenes in contemporary movies. Then again, the movie is mostly set in 2020, so perhaps it’s included more as an act of nostalgia. Nevertheless, from its celebrity butt shots to Jonathan Pryce’s American accent, All The Old Knives is compelling moment by moment, but afterward viewers may have some lingering questions about what characters hoped to accomplish, or why they were involved at all. Pine and Newton command the audience’s attention, but as CIA analysts they both seem to miss details that would be important for their jobs—though to be fair, it’s easy to get distracted by their mutual hotness.

For better or worse, the film names both Islamic terrorists and (indirectly) Vladimir Putin as the world’s bad guys, and underscores the trouble that ensues when other world powers try to take sides. Nevertheless, All The Old Knives offers enough of a clearinghouse for well-known villains (here come the Chechens!) that it’s likely to feel more like a fun time waster than a measured referendum on geopolitics. Critics inclined to get angry that it takes the CIA mostly for granted might have a point, but this film is also unlikely to stir deeper cultural debate than what to watch on a Friday night after Mom and Dad have put the kids to bed and poured a few glasses of wine. Not to mention, it’s clearly told from the CIA’s point of view, regardless of which character the viewer sides with in the end.

While it’s unlikely that Pine has found himself a new franchise here, the actor’s ability to exude bravado and then to undercut it with vulnerability makes him the perfect casting choice for more not-Jack Ryan projects like this. Maybe he can do it in the next Expendables.


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