In a world of fast-paced, high-concept, action-packed blockbuster films adapted from comics and toys, settling in with a slow, tense thriller adapted from a novel is often a nice and welcome change of pace. All the Old Knives is an international espionage thriller about a CIA agent who is tasked with rooting out a mole who helped terrorists take over a plane and kill all of those onboard almost a decade ago.
The majority of the film involves CIA Agent Henry Pelham (Chris Pine) interviewing his old coworker and love-interest, Celia Harrison (Thandiwe Newton), in a fancy California restaurant overlooking the Pacific. While Pelham questions her, multiple flashbacks are shown of the disastrous day of the plane hijacking. Pelham and his Harrison mull over who could have been the mole by going over what exactly happened that day. Although almost a third of the film takes place in this single restaurant at the same table, the film doesn’t feel claustrophobic. The intercutting of the flashbacks keeps the audience interested and the mystery alive while they uncover this mystery along with the two CIA agents.
Most viewers will recognize Chris Pine as Captain Kirk from the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboots or Wonder Woman’s love interest in the Wonder Woman films, but the character that Chris Pine plays in All the Old Knives is a very mature, serious, and elegant one. His graying hair is indicative of this maturation. With the story jumping between two time periods eight years apart, the audience is shown a less mature and more brash Chris Pine compared to a graying and more mature Chris Pine. The difference is palpable but not extreme. It proves that Pine can take on more serious and melodramatic roles, something many big-name actors who star in big blockbuster movies attempt later in their careers.
Thandiwe Newton mirrors Pine in a fashion that emphasizes her own acting prowess. While Pelham has an air of bitterness toward him after failing to maintain his relationship, Harrison shows that she’s moved on and is content with her new life and family. She is often the voice of reason in the conversation between her and Pelham and tries to give all suspects the benefit of the doubt. Although not always apparent, Newton brings a soft, loving, and sensitive approach to her character, which nicely contrasts the slightly harsher character that Pine portrays. Needless to say, this makes for an endearing and enjoyable interplay between the two.
Being a very dramatic film, All the Old Knives features some dramatic camerawork. It features a lot of extreme close-ups and intense shots of characters being serious and reacting to specific events. With modern camera technology being so advanced, the viewer can see every eye twitch and drop of sweat as various characters experience the extreme stress of the situation. To be fair, being in a restaurant for most of the film requires the director of photography to get creative to keep things fresh. This results in shots ranging from extremely close to surveillance shots from the restaurant security camera. All of it helps to emphasize the very subtle yet powerful emotions and reactions necessary to maintain the tension in a somewhat slower film.
The majority of the story takes place in a trendy California restaurant over the course of a couple of hours as the two try to recall different facts about the hijacking of flight 127. The film has a relatively even distribution of time spent in the present and time spent in the past, and this time is split up evenly as well. A flashback is shown for almost every conversation the two main characters have. This helps not to make the film one long dialogue sequence. The essence of the mystery helps keep the audience engaged as well.
This is the main driving force of the film, the mystery. Having the audience try and figure out who the mole is along with the main characters ensures that every scene has conflict, tension, and stakes to keep things interesting. It is a very difficult feat, but All the Old Knives pulls it off. The film makes the viewer feel like they are Pelham uncovering the mystery. No information that Pelham doesn’t already have is given to the audience. They know everything that Pelham knows or almost everything. The film is good about feeding just the right amount of information to the audience to keep them interested but not bored from too much information or confused from too little.
Rating: 4/5 Stars
All the Old Knives is a tense, nail-biter of a thriller. Although it may be a little slow compared to modern films and other blockbusters, All the Old Knives has enough tension to be cut by a dull, gently placed knife. It’s a nice change of pace compared to the very fast-paced films that fill modern-day movie theaters.