Review: All the Old Knives

Thandiwe Newton and Chris Pine in All the Old Knives

All the Old Knives is a spy/love story. I have no idea what the title means. There was plenty of unneeded exposition in the story, but none that would explain the title. Thandiwe Newton and Chris Pine star. They were the reason I watched it.

All the Old Knives is written in a way that gives you bits and pieces of the story again and again from different viewpoints. It jumps about from past to present. Each new look at the past fills in more of what really happened until the end, when you may or may not trust what you learned.

Thandiwe Newton in All the Old Knives

Celia (Thandiwe Newton) worked for the CIA. She was stationed in Vienna when an airline hijacking occurred. The CIA was unable to do anything to save the people on the plane and 120 of them, including children, died in the incident. She still had nightmares about it.

Chris Pine in All the Old Knives

Also working in the same office was Celia’s lover, Henry (Chris Pine). An important aspect of the plot was their relationship. They were both trained not to trust anyone, but what about someone you loved? When the mission to save the people in the plane failed, Celia ran. She left the CIA and started living a different life in California.

Eight years after the hijacking, Henry still works for the CIA. He is called in by his former boss Vick (Laurence Fishburne). They found someone who knew something about the hijacking. He said there was a mole in the office in Vienna. Henry is sent to investigate all the people who were working there at the time and find the mole.

Henry first talks to Bill (Jonathan Pryce). There was some evidence that made him look guilty, but Henry decided it wasn’t him.

Then Henry went to see his old lover, Celia. She lived in Carmel-by-the-Sea. She had a husband and two kids. They met in a gorgeous but mostly deserted wine bar and restaurant and talked for hours. Each memory, each flashback, brought a new twist, a new fact.

Even though the film was just over 100 minutes long, it felt slow. The dialog was delivered in even, measured tones. People were serious. Nobody trusted anybody. Don’t be fooled by the “spy story” label on this film. It was not a thriller – it was more cerebral.

The chemistry between Thandiwe Newton and Chris Pine was important. They cared about each other in ways that were both selfless and selfish. Feelings lingered.

The film is on Prime Video. If you watch it, I’d love to know what you thought about it.

8 thoughts on “Review: All the Old Knives”

  1. I just want to go to that restaurant they were at.. that looked sooooo beautiful. Of course it would be waaaaay out of my price range – but I’d like to pretend! ha!

  2. For my money, All the Old Knives is mis-categorized as a thriller; that means the audience has every right to expect thrills. None here, really. This movie is a relationship drama; the relationship happens to be between spies. Actually, one spy and one intelligence analyst, but why quibble. The core of the story was about what matters to us and why; in a word, values. But the movie never really delivered on this theme.

    I felt the movie was contrived. At the end of it, I found myself asking, ‘Now why did she / he do that?’ Contrivance and unclear character motivation doesn’t make powerful story telling.

    I was entertained by All the Old Knives because the movie held my curiosity, made me think about my values. So, on that level it was worth watching. On the other hand, I truly enjoy stories that engage my emotions and my values. Mostly because of the way the story was told – extensive flashback and tedious exposition – the revelation at the center of the story fell flat.

    1. The thing that got me was how she was out of the CIA but she had this entire network she could pull into action. The scenes in the restaurant were all contrived by her. And the poison in the wine showed how dangerous she still was.

  3. I think we are reading the plot and the motives differently. The plotting was so convoluted that it was hard to keep track of who was doing what and for what reason (as I mentioned in my comment), but the way I read it – and it took a couple of days after watching the movie and having those why questions rolling around in my head to grasp this: Celia was recruited by Vick, the CIA station chief (the Laurence Fishburn character) to entrap Henry. She was acting as a spy for Vick because Vick suspected that Henry was the mole. We don’t find out that Vick was in on it, until the end, when Vick gets the call telling him that the mission was done. Everybody in the restaurant, were CIA agents on the mission on Vick’s orders. Vick suspected Henry because Ilyas (the friend Henry betrayed) confessed that Henry was the mole. After Henry had drank the poison, Celia told Henry that Vick knew and how he knew, or suspected.

    Now, the questions for me were:
    1) Was this elaborate scheme really necessary to catch Henry?
    2) Couldn’t Vick just check Henry’s phone records to see who he’d been in contact with? After all, a call on Henry’s phone is how Celia made the discovery.
    3) Why recruit Celia?
    4) Why would she agree to participate in her ex-lover’s assassination?
    5) Why were Celia and Henry permitted to have a relationship in the first place? Aren’t there rules about that kinda thing in spy world?
    6) Why did Henry hire an assassin to murder Celia? He knew he was the mole. Was he so bitter and spiteful that he would order the hit as revenge for Celia having walked out on him without explanation years before? There wasn’t any evidence of bitterness in his character (that I saw). Was he simply willing to sacrifice her to protect his identity?
    7) Henry was supposedly a top-notch spy and deeply, deeply in love with Celia. How is it that he never tracked her down over the years? Surely, she could be found. And surely Henry would want to know why the love of his life left him the way she left him.
    8) And there are more questions, but I’m running out of energy, LOL.

    It would seem I’ve given this movie more thought than necessary, but really these questions are simply a result of the plot contrivance; it doesn’t take any time to come up with them. It took more time to write this comment 🙂 I’ve considered watching the movie again to see if these questions were answered, if I just lost the plot, but I didn’t enjoy it enough to re-watch. But then again … maybe.

    1. Gosh, you’ve given this film so much thought. Many of the questions you have may be the result of unclear writing, but I think they wanted to keep it mysterious. I sure don’t have any answers for you…

      1. The questions were rhetorical. Really, not much thought given to the movie itself, but rather to the writing, how the story was crafted, its structure. Movies – entertainment in general has become so redundant there’s very little entertainment value in it anymore (for me). So, because I enjoy story craft, I focus on plot and story development. And yes, that does require thought … that’s a good thing.

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