Pine chemistry, Newton raises “All the old knives”

Spy thrillers can range from big, loud blockbusters like the “Mission Impossible” franchise to quieter, more low-key affairs like 2010’s “The American,” which starred George Clooney as an assassin charged with a last job in Italy.

In 2021, Amazon dabbled in the movie genre with a stronger title called “Without Remorse.” It was a hollow and ultimately disappointing film that squandered the talent of Michael B. Jordan. In 2022, Amazon tries again with a calmer film called “All the Old Knives”. This one is more successful.

Based on the 2015 book of the same title, “All the Old Knives” is directed by Janus Metz. Chris Pine plays CIA agent Henry Pelham, while Thandiwe Newton plays Celia Harrison, another CIA agent working at the same train station in Vienna.

Pine and Newton bring all-star chemistry to their roles as former lovers and spy partners with more secrets than either can handle. Most of the film takes place with their characters having a leisurely dinner at an oceanside restaurant in California’s wine country. The film goes back and forth in chronological order as it unravels its tightly held mystery.

Several years before dinner, Pelham and Harrison were working together in Vienna when terrorists hijacked Royal Jordanian Flight 127 with passengers on board. The unknown terrorists demanded the release of prisoners from Germany and Hungary. Back in Vienna, their team was led by Vick Wallinger (Laurence Fishburne), with Harrison working under Bill Compton (Jonathan Pryce). Ultimately, the mission failed when the terrorists killed the hostages.

Now Wallinger informs Pelham that CIA headquarters wants the case reopened. Rumor has it that the Vienna office had a mole providing the terrorists with compromising information during the hostage crisis.

So Wallinger tasks Pelham with determining if the mole is Compton or Harrison, which leads him to ask his ex-lover, now happily married, retired from life as a spy and raising her two children, at the power plant.

“All the Old Knives” is a film that requires precise attention, because the smallest details and words count. Since the movie unfolds out of order, the audience will have to give it their full attention.

The good news is that it’s not a difficult task, since the movie is so appealing. Pine and Newton have such passionate chemistry that audiences will be sitting on the edge of their seats, hoping against the odds that the villain of the story isn’t either.

At any point in “All the Old Knives,” Compton or Harrison could be the mole. The tight narrative of the story allows this relatively small cohort to thrive and drive a boatload of tension. Everyone has their secrets, and as Pelham learns, sometimes good people make bad decisions for the right reasons.

What’s truly magnificent is how thrilling “All the Old Knives” manages to be without firing a single shot at the screen. And that’s mostly thanks to the performances of its main characters, all of whom have a tightrope to walk at exactly the precise pace demanded by screenwriter Olen Steinhauer.

This movie is less “The Bourne Supremacy” and more “Clear and Present Danger” (minus Willem Dafoe).

The brilliance of “All the Old Knives” is that viewers won’t know who the bad guy is until the final minutes. And even then, they’ll wonder if this character was really the bad guy after all.

And, of course, those excellent performances and the tight narrative are complemented by beautiful cinematography from Charlotte Bruus Christensen. Jon Ekstrand and Rebekka Karijord gave “All the Old Knives” an unsettling score that only serves to heighten the tension and bring a claustrophobic energy to the mystery.

“All the Old Knives” is available on Amazon Prime Video starting today.

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