In All the Old Knives, Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton play two CIA operatives and former lovers reunited six years after a failed mission. As they re-examine the case where a fellow agent may have been compromised, they’re forced to also confront the reality of their failed relationship.
Starts kinda rough, but stick with it
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure about All the Old Knives at the start.
The movie opens with a brief tease of the terrorist situation – a hijacked plane. It’s pretty much what you’d expect, right down to the dramatic killing of a flight attendant to show you these bad guys mean business. We don’t get all the details about what happens, but we do know possibly the most important thing: the CIA failed to deescalate the situation, and the hostages were killed.
Then, we flash forward six years to the present day. CIA bigwig Vick Wallinger (Laurence Fishburne) comes to Henry Pelham (Pine) to drop a bombshell. He now believes their team had a mole – someone in contact with the terrorists, who ultimately caused the op to fail and the deaths of everyone on the plane. Wallinger tasks Henry with looking into his former team members to discover the compromised agent and bring them to justice. Specifically, Henry will need to investigate his former lover Celia Harrison (Newton) and her boss, Bill Compton (Jonathan Pryce).
Ultimately, the scene is incredibly clunky. Despite how it’s basically just Fishburne’s character info-dumping to catch the audience up to speed, it somehow fails to answer the most important question. If Wallinger knows the mole was someone on the team while Henry was a member of said team… shouldn’t he ask someone else to handle the investigation?
Even if Wallinger trusts Henry beyond a shadow of a doubt (and I guess we as the audience would just have to believe that?), it’s still a major conflict of interest to ask Henry to investigate his former girlfriend and friends/co-workers. The pair seem to imply that only Henry would be able to tell if Celia in particular was lying to him, which… okay. (Is everyone else in the CIA incompetent? Or is Celia the world’s greatest liar?)
Thankfully, with this bit of heavy-handed exposition out of the way, All the Old Knives begins a steady climb up a hill of drama and intrigue. The story shifts between times and perspectives to show us how the events of the past played out, slowly revealing new details about the hostage situation and everyone involved. Though I found the opening of the film underwhelming, I became more and more invested in the story as it progressed.
Pine and Newton’s chemistry carries the film
One of the reasons All the Old Knives seems to get better as it goes along is it gives Pine and Newton time to shine as they play off one another. They have great chemistry, and you find yourself becoming more and more invested in their relationship. You’re not just hunting down a mole in a since-ended terrorist plot; you’re unraveling the mystery of how it drove Henry and Celia apart.
The start of the movie plays similar to a film like Argo, focusing mainly on the terrorist plot and how to manage the crisis. As the story progresses and we learn more about Celia and Henry, you get more of a Mr. and Mrs. Smith vibe. I think the movie does a better job being the latter of the two. (But to be fair, my personal tastes also just align more with Mr. and Mrs. Smith.)
Every ending twist and turn doesn’t land completely, and I still have a few questions about who knew what and when. But overall, Pine and Newton made me care about Henry and Celia enough to make the climactic final scenes emotionally resonant and narratively satisfying. If you like your political intrigue with a healthy dose of romantic drama, All the Old Knives will work for you.
All the Old Knives premieres in select theaters and globally on Prime Video April 8.