Moving Pictures
Apr 08, 2022, 06:27AM

Pull Out All the Old Knives

This entertaining but slight spy thriller is still internally consistent.

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The way that The Hunt For Red October kicked off a series of Cold War thrillers, in the 1990s, that came out when the Cold War was already over, the new Amazon film All the Old Knives serves as a belated War on Terror thriller. This entertaining but slight spy thriller is based on an interesting conceit, has two strong lead performances and a plot that's endlessly twisty but still internally consistent. The setup is that, about five years before the events of the film, terrorists hijacked a  plane on the runway and everyone on board ended up dead. The CIA's Vienna section remains haunted by the incident, feeling they could’ve prevented it, so in the present day, they've sent an agent named Henry (Chris Pine) to investigate it—including the nagging belief that the hijackers might have had a CIA mole.

The investigation entails going to Carmel, Calif., and meeting with Celia (Thandiwe Newton), another agent from the time of the hijacking—and a woman with whom he had an uncommonly steamy affair. She fled the CIA immediately after the plane disasters, and the two lovers hadn't seen each other since. Most of the film alternates between the period of the hijacking and Henry and Celia's long dinner in a Carmel restaurant. Suspicion goes back and forth over who in the station, including both of the ex-lovers, might be the culprit. Also on board are Laurence Fishburne and Jonathan Pryce as other CIA hands. Pryce for some reason is named "Bill Compton," which was also the name of Stephen Moyer's character on HBO vampire show True Blood.

All the Old Knives was written by Olen Steinhauer, who based it on his own novel, while its director is Janus Metz Pedersen, whose last film was Borg vs. McEnroe, a Swedish film about the 1980 Wimbledon final that valorized Bjorn Borg and villainized John McEnroe, to the point where the latter was played by Shia LaBeouf. This is a better film, which delves into War on Terror-era regrets without getting especially political, and also without ever turning into 24.

Pine delivers a typically workmanlike performance, playing a version of Jack Ryan, almost a decade after his movie reboot of the Ryan series fizzled out after a single film; ironically, it's on the same streaming service that features John Krasinski's current incarnation of Ryan. But the true revelation is Newton, acting the hell out of a rare chance at a lead role.

Movies where there's an earth-shattering plot twist every 10 minutes can get annoying, but All the Old Knives handles its plotting better, and the ending is especially well-executed. All the Old Knives comes out Friday, both in limited theaters and on Amazon Prime. It deserves a better fate than the purgatory occupied by so many films that debut on that particular service. It's not to be confused with The Contractor, another new film, out last week, that also starred Pine as a War on Terror-era veteran; The Contractor doubles as the first film I've ever heard of in which the movie itself was placed in bankruptcy. All the Old Knives avoided such a fate, instead acquired by the world’s second-most valuable company.


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