I always hesitate the slightest bit when reviewing original content from Amazon, because on one hand it makes me feel like a shill. On the other, original content is big business right now and for the foreseeable future, and anyway, being an Affiliate doesn’t preclude me giving an honest review.
*rubs hands impishly*
All the Old Knives looks like an intriguing film. Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton play Henry Pelham and Celia Hanson respectively, former lovers and CIA agents who parted under mysterious circumstances after a hostage rescue goes wrong. Their team has suffered trauma to varying degrees and one guy has apparently committed suicide.
Eight years later, Celia is married with children and living in Carmel-by-the-sea. Henry’s been asked by his supervisor, Vick (Lawrence Fishburne) to reopen the case because he thinks there’s a mole in the department. He wants Henry to go see Celia in Carmel and try to piece together what happened, so Henry and Celia meet in a swanky restaurant and have a very long dinner.
Most of the movie is told in flashback, including some pretty steamy sex scenes. Henry is still a little bewildered as to why Celia walked out, but Celia isn’t ready to tell him. Not yet, anyway. There are plenty of the usual twists and turns found in spy thriller films, so what’s true one minute may not be true the next.
Knives has its effective points (See what I did there?). Since most of its present-day action takes place in the restaurant it’s pretty much like a one-act play. The exposition happens very naturally because it’s two ex-lovers visiting over dinner. Lawrence Fishburne, Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton are fantastic actors, of course, particularly Chris Pine…hello. The guy is so underrated.
The score sounds like a searchlight scanning the skies, with staccato chords that throbbingly crescendo and decrescendo before they fade into the background. And it’s refreshing to see a spy film that doesn’t involve elaborate schemes or jumping from various heights or running at breakneck speed. I won’t name names.
However, there are a lot of “buts” here. While the film is fairly smart and keeps the viewer guessing, it sleepwalks. Since Henry and Celia stay at their dinner for pretty much the whole movie, they never talk in anything but hushed, measured tones except for a couple of brief exchanges with the waitress and the sommelier about bacon and wine. The restaurant empties out and they’re still murmuring as if someone will overhear them. It’s tedious. Even at the climax their tones are hushed and measured, so it all falls rather flat. I was tempted to ask Henry and Celia to speak up. Or take a walk. Something that would have helped vary the tone a little bit but keep these two characters together.
The other thing is that the movie can show too much hand, albeit subtly. While in the restaraunt, the actors are very seldom in frame together, which keeps us from seeing them react to each other at the same time. Not only does it hold the viewer at arm’s length, but it blatantly shows that each of them are hiding something beyond old lovers being awkward. Plus, Chris Pine is lit better than Thandiwe Newton for most of the movie, which is pretty unusual because these two characters should be on level footing. They were close at one time, they have equal parts to play, but after a while it becomes clear that Henry is a marked man.
I also thought Pine was a little miscast. Even though he and Thandiwe Newton are both fantastic actors, I would have never thought of putting them together. It feels odd. Chris Pine is a bit too young to be playing a much older, jaded CIA agent, and just because Henry and Celia can get hot and heavy at the drop of a hat doesn’t mean they have effective chemistry. Much as I like Chris Pine, I longed for Tom Cruise to walk in.
And yeah, I realize this would invite plenty of Mission: Impossible 2 comparisons, but Tom Cruise as Henry would be way more believable. It would inject a little more intensity into a movie that, while smart, lacks energy.
All in all, All the Old Knives deserves kudos for trying to do something different in the spy movie genre, even if watching it may require some kind of legal stimulant.
Another review is coming out on Tuesday. Thanks for reading, all, and have a good one…
All the Old Knives is free to stream for Prime customers.
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