It’s always nice to be proven wrong about what you think you are going to get from a movie after watching a trailer of the same. Because after poring through hours of promotional material for movies and shows, day in and day out, you begin to build a sense of confidence that you can accurately predict what the final product is going to turn out to be. And 90% of the time, you are right because, well, things are that predictable. “All the Old Knives (2022)”, though, is part of that 10% which is presented as a by-the-numbers, dull, boring, stilted, romantic drama masquerading as a spy thriller. But instead, it is a chilling, tense, twisted, edge-of-the-seat spy thriller with a palpable love story at its center. On top of that, Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton are acting their asses off. So let’s talk about it.
Disclaimer: Everything after the first 10-15 minutes of “All The Old Knives” is a spoiler. So, please pardon the vagueness of this spoiler-free review.
Directed by Janus Metz and written by Olen Steinhauer, “All the Old Knives” is centered around the 2012 hijacking of Royal Jordanian Flight 127 and the CIA’s mishandling of it, leading to the deaths of the passengers, the terrorists, and an agent who was there. The Vienna team, made up of Henry (Pine), Celia (Newton), Vick (Laurence Fishburne), Bill (Jonathan Pryce), Ernst (Jonjo O’Neill), Leila (Ahd), and Owen (David Dawson), is initially clueless. They suspect that they’ve got a mole on the inside. But those suspicions are only confirmed eight years later, after the capture of the “mastermind” of the terrorist attack, i.e., Ilyas Shushani (Orli Shuka). Since Vick is aware of Henry and Celia’s romantic past, Vick calls Henry in to go after Celia and “finish the job.” Henry and Celia meet up at a fancy restaurant to reminisce about their lives, which turns into an interrogation, and they realize that the truth is far more twisted than they (or we) think it is.
Metz has been on a winning streak with “True Detective Season 1 (2014)”, “Borg vs. McEnroe (2017)”, “Heartbound (2018)”, and “ZeroZeroZero (2020)”. Janus Metz’s work in “All the Old Knives” continues that streak. Steinhauer’s story is straightforward if told in a chronological fashion, while being understandably packed to the brim with a lot of emotion. Hence, the script-writing, Metz’s direction, and Mark Eckersley and Per Sandholt’s editing come together to make things complicated and dramatic. There’s a deliberate omission of details to keep the audience guessing about what’s coming next. Conversations that happen in the past are run in parallel with conversations in the present to accentuate the impact of certain revelations. And only if you’re looking very closely, will you be able to notice the visual clues that Metz, Eckersley, Sandholt, and cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen are leaving for you to catch. The storytelling is never obvious enough to be predictable, never too subtle to make you think things are coming out of left field, and it is consistently artistic.
The story of “All the Old Knives” hinges on two aspects: Henry and Celia’s love story and the hijacking of Flight 127. The love story largely talks about the extent of Henry’s love for Celia and vice versa, and what they’re willing to sacrifice. The events of Henry and Celia’s relationship are presented in a very poetic fashion as you see a lot of what happened in their past recurring in the present, albeit with a tragic twist. And the things they do for love recontextualize every single second leading up to the tantalizing third act in such a way that you’ll be compelled to rewatch the whole movie instantly. As for the hijacking, on the surface, it looks like an Islamophobic take on terrorism, which props “bad” and “good” Muslims on either side of the proverbial fence to appear fair in terms of representation. But as the movie goes on, you get to see the nuances behind Ilyas’s actions; what’s painted as global terrorism and what’s painted as heroism; and how Third World countries end up bearing the brunt of the USA’s invasive policies.
Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton are two of my favorite actors of all time, and it’s insanely satisfying and exhilarating to see them deliver such brilliant performances in “All the Old Knives.” As mentioned before, a lot of Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton’s scenes will feel meaningless and still for the sake of being still. You’ll probably be blown away by the vocal inflections in that long and intense conversation, feel your pulse going up while witnessing the romance between their characters, and experience heartbreak by the end. But after receiving more context, those quiet moments will hit you like a bag of bricks and urge you to stare and appreciate what Pine and Newton are doing with their eyes, their faces, and their physiques. It’s marvelous. Orli Shuka subtly steals the scene despite being in the movie for a few minutes. Jonathan Pryce proves yet again that he is one of the most dependable actors in the business. Laurence Fishburne, Jonjo O’Neill, Corey Johnson, Ahd, and David Dawson are largely there to accentuate Pine and Newton’s performances, and they play their parts well.
In conclusion, “All the Old Knives” is such a good movie that it makes me sad. I say “sad” because we’re living in a time when a movie like this isn’t getting a theatrical release and has been relegated to a digital release. Yes, it’s releasing in a couple of selected theaters in the USA, and that’s it. But this is such a meticulously structured, beautifully acted, smoothly edited, gorgeous-looking film that it should be watched and observed under the magnifying glass that’s the cinema screen. Not on the cold and compact laptop or mobile screen. However, this is the reality we live in, and we have to accept it. And one can only hope that the movie reaches more and more people through the power of the internet so that they can discuss and re-discuss every single detail embedded in every single frame and give it the love and appreciation that it deserves.
“All the Old Knives” is a 2022 thriller film directed by Janus Metz and written by Olen Steinhauer. It’s available in select theaters in the USA and streaming on Prime Video from April 8.