Spy thrillers are also so intriguing to watch. Not only do you get to follow a suspenseful plot, you can also have a peek into the lives of the people who are supposedly making the world a safer place for the rest of us. Men and women in expensive suits, fighting against Russia, North Korea and some Arab countries is the general representation of spy thrillers coming out of Hollywood.
“All the Old Knives” available on Amazon Prime Video is not so different. It’s a spy thriller set in a world that feels all too real. The film centers on Henry Pelham (Chris Pine), an ex-CIA agent who is having trouble adjusting to a normal life because of a harrowing incident in the past.
In early 2020, Henry is informed by his boss Vick Wallinger (Laurence Fishburne) that the CIA has reopened the case of Turkish Alliance 127, a 2012 terrorist hijacking that ended in a tragedy. The CIA Headquarters suspect a leak from the Vienna station, where both Henry and Vick were working at the time of the incident.
Also working in Vienna in 2012 was Celia Harrison (Thandiwe Newton), who was in a relationship with Henry at the time. The two had drifted apart after the incident, with Celia finding a new life for herself with a husband and daughter in California. Nevertheless, as the mystery deepens, Henry is sent to interview Celia to find out if she was part of the leak.
The meeting between the two former colleagues and lovers becomes the center of the movie, with repeated flashbacks to 2012. In these flashbacks, the audience gets to see a host of other characters—from different security agencies, Russian government, Islamic terrorists, Chechen rebels—all contributing to the conspiracy behind the Flight 127 terrorist hijacking and its tragic ending.
Storytelling is what the film and its characters do throughout. Something that does not settle too well with me. When I read the movie’s description, I had expected it to be an on-the-edge-of-your-seat thriller a la James Bond or Jason Bourne film franchises.
The film even starts like a spy thriller with violence and suspense taking place within the first few scenes. Even the color tone on the screen promises an exciting action-packed thriller. But as the film progresses, you soon realize you are in for a let-down.
Disguised as a suspense thriller, All the Old Knives turns out to be a drama, staged to reunite two scorned lovers, with all other characters and plots just playing a side role. Henry is evidently not over Celia yet as he keeps getting flashbacks of his time with her in the past. The interview with Celia to find out the truth about the hijacking seems more like Henry’s attempt to reconcile with her.
With his well-cut suit and fancy car, Chris Pine’s Henry does at times look like the 007 star Pierce Brosnan. But he never gets to go off like 007. Henry is limited to sitting at a table of a fancy restaurant, sipping wine and talking about the past. He is a keen strategist for the CIA, and that’s all he is it seems.
In all this, Laurence Fishburne—the three time Emmy and Tony award winning actor—gets undeservingly sidelined. His first few scenes as Vick suggest that he may have a crucial hand in the film’s proceedings but no: we see far too little of the actor. This is a role that could have been given to anyone but filmmakers decided to choose the very best in business and make him underperform.
Who should watch it?
I might be a bit biased here because for me espionage thrillers need to have at least a little bit of action, or tension. All the Old Knives lacks both. There are some elements of surprise and intrigue that lead to the climax but by the time the film starts to grab the audience’s attention, it is too late. Still a decent watch for those who like drama, melodrama and more.
Rating: 2 stars
Genre: Suspense, drama
Actors: Chris Pine, Laurence Fishburne, Thandiwe Newton