Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton are ex-lovers caught up in an elusive spy game.

All the Old Knives (2022 movie)


Like milkmen and travel agents, sophisticated adult dramas have long been lamented as a casualty of the 21st century: not yet entirely lost, maybe, but on the endangered species list. So there are high hopes for a movie like All the Old Knives, with its beautifully turned-out fortysomething stars and high-toned production values. Instead, the elegant but ambiguous result (streaming on Amazon Prime Video this Friday) often feels caught between ideas and execution — a Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with more sex and less sense, brushing up against the deeper, more satisfying film that might have been.

That's not for lack of effort from its lead actors, or their hair. Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton are Henry and Celia, once lovers and CIA agents stationed together at an outpost in Vienna. When an airplane hijacking goes horribly awry, everyone onboard, including more than a hundred hostages, dies. Eight years later, Henry finds Celia to tell her they've learned why: There was a mole inside the station, passing information to the terrorists onboard.

Credit: Stefania Rosini/Amazon Studios

Now retired but not entirely moved on, Celia has settled into a civilian life with her husband and young children in Carmel-by-the-Sea, the dreamy California coastline showcased most recently on HBO's Big Little Lies. Here it looks equally unreal, an ephemeral place of mist-shrouded alleyways and curiously underpopulated wine bars. It's at one of those immaculate spots where the pair meets to relitigate the past, though Henry assures her that her part in the investigation is merely a formality. And you should, of course, always trust a spy.

Through flashbacks the original sin begins to unfurl, the film's shifting timelines signaled by gradations in the glorious beaver pelt on Pine's head. He's shaggy but clean-shaven in circa-2012 Vienna, when the bureau's terse chief, Vick Wallinger (an elusive Laurence Fishburne, blink slow and you might miss him) gathers his team to chase down every possible lead before the hijackers' clocks run out. Does the group's language expert (Laila Maroof) or tremulous elder statesman (recent Oscar nominee Jonathan Pryce) know more than they're saying? Does Celia?

Danish-born director Janus Metz Pedersen (True Detective, Borg vs. McEnroe) operates with a distinctly European sensibility, unhurried and enigmatic, his sumptuous shots so artfully composed they could be put in frames. Olen Steinhauer adapted the script from his own 2015 novel, and it suffers the bugaboos of many book-to-screen translations: There's clearly more to this story than we can really gather in an hour and 40 minutes, and characters tend to feel flattened into simpler, less interesting archetypes than they would be on the page. Pine and Newton work valiantly to fill in the blanks, though the gray-flannel template of the dialogue often pushes back. When they do manage to transcend it, the movie becomes something still rare enough to appreciate: an urbane thriller calibrated for slow burns and analog attention spans. Grade: B

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All the Old Knives (2022 movie)

Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton star in this thriller as a couple of CIA agents (and ex-lovers) caught up in an elusive spy game. 

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