Former lovers meet up for dinner, talking about the old days over wine and probing each other for information.
Over the course of a meal, the two fall in and out of love while harboring a weariness that keeps them questioning the other’s intentions and just how honest they are being with one another.
This conversation carries much of the weight in director Janus Metz’s adaptation of a novel written by Olen Steinhauer that sees these ex-CIA operatives questioning each other and themselves in search of a traitor who aided hijackers in a deadly attack on a Turkish Airlines plane years earlier.
The kind of movie that nowadays would be stretched into a 10-hour miniseries, All The Old Knives is tighter than it feels as Metz takes his time with the slow-burn pacing and meters out revelations deliberately to keep audiences from deducing the traitor too early.
Steinhauer adapts his own novel and pens an intricately dense screenplay filled with red herrings that pushes Henry to doubt his own instincts as he interrogates his ex-flame Celia, a prime suspect to be the mole.
Because so much of Knives is centered around a single conversation in a largely empty restaurant, Metz’s film requires a pair of actors capable of carrying long scenes without much action or demonstrative monologues. Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton, at first glance, don’t seem like a perfect fit, but their chemistry makes more sense over time.
As the film progresses, Pine becomes far from the obvious choice to play Henry. In the flashbacks to 2012, he has the suave charm and looks to pull off being a deep cover operative; but in the present day, the decision to weather Pine in salt-and-pepper gray reduces the believability of his character.
Luckily, these segments are highly dialogue driven and Pine is able to convincingly balance Henry’s role as interrogator with that of a former lover longing to have Celia back in his life.
Newton has a much harder role to play as Celia, with the present day version being especially apprehensive for unclear reasons while in flashbacks, her vision is clouded by a deep love for Henry. It’s rare that audiences truly know what’s going in either character’s head and Newton does a fine job of masking Celia’s thoughts behinds a veil of timid uncertainty.
Aside from Pine and Newton, most of the other characters are largely relegated to the background. Lawrence Fishburne does a solid job as the station chief, while Jonathan Pryce is exceptional in a role much too small for the quality of work he delivers here. Even with an overly long running time just under two hours, Knives could have used an extra scene or two between Pine and Pryce catching up in a London pub.
Knives is highly edited and crosscut in between time periods and within scenes of dialogue to always keep viewers engaged, although the frequent back and forth could prove to be too much for some audiences. The film could also benefit from a bit more streamlining of the constant time-jumping, but location changes and the color of Pine’s hair from moment to moment help keep audiences in the relative know.
Cinematography from Charlotte Bruus Christensen is often striking, but Metz often forces the camera in more tightly than necessary in dialogue moments leaving the entire film a touch cold in spite of the warmth Christensen provides in lighting scenes.
While not the most cinematic film that would demand a trip to theaters, All The Old Knives may prove worthwhile to cinephiles appreciative of a slow-burn character driven drama thanks to its ease of access on Amazon Prime.