All the Old Knives is a DOA old-school espionage thriller that only succeeds in proving how wasted Chris Pine is.
Sporting quite possibly one of the worst titles to grace a film in ages, All the Old Knives comes courtesy of Amazon Studios, its Prime streaming service as appropriate a place as any for an old-school espionage thriller that feels like the final episode of a basic cable television series everyone stopped watching three weeks into its run. Author Olen Steinhauer adapts his own 2015 bestselling novel into, appropriately enough, the film equivalent of an airplane read, the type of entertainment that is half-mindedly consumed and moderately enjoyable in the moment, but of which little is remembered after feet hit tarmac. Sporting a wholly overqualified cast that deserves more than this malarkey, the effortlessly charismatic Chris Pine stars as Henry Pelham, a high-ranking CIA agent whose latest assignment finds him digging into a volatile international incident from eight years prior, in which jihadist terrorists took hostage a commercial airplane and murdered its 130 passengers when their demands failed to be met. Henry’s boss, Vick (Laurence Fishburne), believes the assailants were assisted by a mole within their own organization, forcing Henry to delve into a past he is desperate to forget, as he is sent to California to interview the CIA’s number one suspect, ex-lover and former agent Celia Harrison (Thandiwe Newton).
All the Old Knives ping pongs back and forth in time, as a casual dinner conversation/interrogation between Henry and Celia is interrupted by a series of flashbacks detailing the frantic 24-hour period in which various agents tried to divert an international tragedy — all while one in their midst aided its success. Unfortunately, that list of suspects is short, making the film’s inevitable twists feel especially hollow and obvious. Meanwhile, Henry uses the investigation as an excuse to perform a post-mortem on his former relationship with Celia, who is now happily married with two kids. As is to be expected, the failure of this union and the incident itself are irrevocably entwined, but there is still something distasteful about using a terrorist attack — even a fictional one — as fodder for a tawdry romance; Casablanca this is not. In fact, if one were to compare this film to anything, it would hew closer to Robert Zemeckis’ failed attempt at a Casablanca riff, 2016’s Allied. Like that film, All the Old Knives certainly looks lush, courtesy of director Janus Metz, a filmmaker who knows his way around both gorgeous, golden-hour vistas and comely leads. Pine and Newton look the part, but there’s nothing for them to truly sink their teeth into, merely a handful of pained expressions and a series of single, streaming tears, regardless of intimations on the devastating effects of PTSD. Not even the addition of a graphic love scene does much to enliven the proceedings, despite trying its damndest to outdo Munich in terms of presenting sex as a purging of internalized guilt, rage, and grief. The score, courtesy of Jon Ekstrand and Rebekka Karijord, works overtime in its attempts to inject drama where none exists, the sedate imagery betraying the sonorous, Hans Zimmer-inspired thunder thumping incessantly in the background. It all leaves the viewer more than enough time to ponder the rather shocking truth that Hollywood has yet to figure out what to do with Pine, a talented and versatile actor who calls to mind Robert Redford in that distinct, humble superstar mode you might call “affable gravitas.” Meaning, Newton is wasted in yet another Hollywood production, which is an unsurprising bummer. Part and parcel it would seem, as there are no surprises to be found in All the Old Knives, a thriller as boring as it is banal, a fatal offense for a film of this ilk. You could call it forgettable, but even that implies you might remember it at all.