It's admirable, I suppose, that Chris Pine continues to stretch himself as an actor and seek out cinematic life beyond that of an impossibly good looking man who also has quite a bit of talent. It's been said that Pine called the script for All the Old Knives one of the three best scripts he's ever read, a fact that led to Pine's signing on as executive producer for the film in addition to serving as its co-star alongside the criminally underrated Thandiwe Newton.
From Pine's pronouncement, one must assume that Pine has only actually read four scripts including the one for Movie 43 or, perhaps more likely, those early positive impressions got lost somewhere along the way and somehow this script adapted by Olen Steinhauer from his own novel isn't half the film it ought to be.
All the Old Knives, opening in theatres and on Amazon's Prime Video on April 8th, is an old school spy thriller minus much in the way of thrills and nearly completely absent anything resembling a surprise. In fact, so completely predictable was the film's ending that I nearly laughed aloud as it played out and I became tempted to slip in my DVD of Movie 43.
Okay, I'm just kidding. All the Old Knives is actually a much better film than Movie 43.
Director Janus Metz Pedersen (Borg vs. McEnroe) crafts All the Old Knives primarily as more of a psychological thriller, a chess match set in spy vs. spy territory with Pine's Henry and Newton's Celia quickly revealed as both CIA peers and, far more secretly, former lovers. The foundation of the film is a 2012 airplane hijacking that unfolded with tragic results and led to the changing of everyone's lives. It has been discovered that the CIA had a mole during the hijacking and CIA Chief Wallinger (Laurence Fishburne) has tasked Henry with tracking down Celia and discovering her life since the tragedy.
It's a pity that All The Old Knives doesn't possess more spark because it's truly Newton's meatiest and most substantial performance in years, a far more layered performance than the character herself would seem to offer and, unfortunately, one that's not matched particularly well by Pine.
The lovemaking scenes in All the Old Knives play out like the awkward thrusts of two ill-matched lovers who already know they're not going to be together for too long, thus all the scenes that surround what once was don't possess nearly the dramatic tension that it's obvious Pedersen is going for here. The occasional flashbacks to the 2012 hijacking do actually pulsate with tension and possibility, though the scenes are far too brief too matter and since we're told early on how it all ends up it's hard to get overly invested in it all.
Still, we get glimpses of the script that likely excited Pine. There's potential here for a mighty special film. It just never happens.
By the time we reach what is intended as our climax, all the thrills and chills have been drained from All The Old Knives and despite the regular appearances of children on the big screen designed to tug at our heartstrings it's hard to feel anything at all who play the ultimate game of betrayal in a world that is founded upon betrayal.
While All The Old Knives is nearly worth watching for Newton's performance alone, Pine never quite captivates amidst Charlotte Bruus Christensen's lingering camera shots that practically seem to penetrate Pine's eyeballs at times.
I mean, seriously. I laughed.
Laurence Fishburne gives his best as Wallinger, though he's given very little to do. The same is true for Jonathan Pryce, an immensely gifted actor given nearly nothing to work with her.
All The Old Knives isn't a bad film. It's just also not a good film. It's a film with tremendous promise that it never lives up to and it's a film that never comes close to living up to Steinhauer's far more nuanced and impactful novel. While it sure is nice to see Thandiwe Newton in top form again, one only wishes that All The Old Knives would have lived up to her mighty fine performance.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic