Streaming on Amazon Prime and in limited
theater screenings starting April 8, 2022
“All the Old Knives” is a standard spy story where the Agency must have a ‘mole’ and one of the top agents is sent to sniff out who it might be. Except that the event happened eight years ago. The interviewer has to determine the guilt of the potential mole. But this person is the ex-lover and prior co-worker of said agent/interviewer. Plus, the ‘interview’ is off-the-record and occurs at a swanky seaside restaurant.
Back eight years ago, at the Vienna CIA station, the man in charge is Vick Wallinger (played by Laurence Fishburne). His best street agent is Henry Pelham (played by Chris Pine). Henry has a love affair with fellow agent Celia Harrison (played by Thandiwe Newton). Celia’s boss in the station is Bill Compton (played by Jonathan Pryce). But on that stressful day, a terrorist hijacked plane lands in the Vienna airport. All hands are on deck to try and find out information about the takeover.
By chance, there is a CIA office clerk on the flight. he is giving informational updates about the hijack event from the inside. But somehow, the hijackers know about the person on board. The whole event ends in a disaster. The CIA is made to look very bad, and there are rumors that somebody inside the Agency was leaking information to the hijacking crew. The deaths linger over the Vienna station, and all people involved are under suspicion.
Vick is now in CIA management back in the States. He was cleared long ago, and Henry said he also had been cleared. The top brass wants some further investigation done on Bill Compton. Especially after some fishy phone numbers had been found in his call log from back then. Why was there a call made to Tehran from Bill’s office phone? Henry is sent to some follow-up checks on Bill. Oh, and while you are at it – also do an interview with Celia. She left the Agency and now is married in California.
Henry is the best street-level agent, so he knows how to get information out of unwilling people. He makes an unannounced stop in London to talk with Bill. Bill is shocked that eight years have gone by and the Agency is still hounding him about that unfortunate event. Bill had been cleared of any wrongdoing. Yes, but now this new information has come up, the phone logs. Bill does not have an explanation about that. But he had left the office that evening, and other people had access to his phone.
Celia was someone who was close to Bill. So maybe she had time to make that mystery call? Henry has hired an off-the-books assassin to handle the outcome with ‘extreme prejudice’, should he feel that Celia is the one. The ‘mole’ in the operation has remained silent for eight years. But should any new information come to light, all of their jobs could be in jeopardy. Celia agrees to meet Henry in a little restaurant that overlooks the ocean.
The place is almost empty, so Henry thinks that will work to his advantage. He has a secret killer at the ready, should the final results go against Celia. She is ready to go over the terrible events of that day eight years ago. Celia has been out of the Agency for many years now, and this a cloud has been hanging over her. Henry and Celia used to be lovers, and that changed after that hijacking event. Henry does not know exactly what changed Celia’s mind. Celia knows that Henry is after a big promotion and more status, and she does not enjoy being under suspicion.
Vick Wallinger has plans beyond what he had relayed to Henry. Bill wants to finally be cleared of any indication that he was ‘mole’. Celia knows a few things about Henry’s background when he used to be in Russia. A deep cover source that Henry developed was given up to the Russian authorities. That source was mistreated badly, and he wound up in Iran. That fishy call in the phone log was to Iran, back eight years ago. So who is the one who is responsible for that call? And did it affect the hijacking terrorists on the plane? How does all of this fit together?
During the evening, the seating arrangements in the restaurant remain the same. But slowly and surely — the tables have turned. Henry still has his ace up his sleeve. His personal killer is ready to take out Celia, whenever Henry gives the go ahead. All he needs to do is say “Yes”. But, in the long run, which agent is the interviewer, and which person is being interrogated?
“All the Old Knives” is decent throwback to old-style spy stories, with a bit of intrigue and deception on the side. Based on a book of the same name, it gives a different look to the standard ‘search for the mole’ type of spy story. The story unfolds in the present day, and in flashbacks to the prior incidents. The acting is solid all the way through. Perhaps Chris Pine can bring back scarves in the way that Chris Evens did for sweaters in “Knives Out”. Hey, they both feature knives, right?
If you are expecting lots of car chases or running shoot-outs, then this is not going to be your movie. If you want a low key, yet entertaining, character study of a group of spies in some stressful situations, then you have an opportunity to enjoy this movie. There are some pretty standard tropes of the spy genre. But the movie does its best to add some edge to the proceedings.
“All the Old Knives” is a very capable tool for cutting into the excessive spy genre movie bulk that exists out there, even though it might not have the sharpest edge in the cutlery drawer.
Streaming on Amazon Prime and in limited theater screenings starting April 8, 2022
All the Old Knives
Directed by: Janus Metz Pedersen
Screenplay by: Olen Steinhauer
Based on “All the Old Knives” by: Olen Steinhauer
Starring: Chris Pine, Thandiwe Newton, Laurence Fishburne, Jonathan Pryce
Cinematography: Charlotte Bruus Christensen
Edited by: Mark Eckersley
Music by: Jon Ekstrand, Rebekka Karijord
Produced by: Amazon Studios
Distributed by: United Artists Releasing
Release date: April 8, 2022
MPAA rating: R for sexuality/nudity, violence and language.