Spy thrillers are a dime a dozen in Hollywood, but spy romance is still quite rare. So when I saw the premise of All the Old Knives, I was immediately sold on the old-fashioned romance thrown in with the mystery and espionage elements. Based on Olen Steinhauer‘s book of the same name, the story centers on a pair of CIA operatives who are former lovers.
Eight years after Henry and Celia had seen each other, the agency reopened the case of the Turkish Alliance 127, which had been hijacked by terrorists that ended in tragedy. Henry’s boss Vick informs the team that headquarters suspects there’s a mole in the Vienna Station where Henry and Vick worked on the case. Vick sends Henry to interview Celia who has since left the spying business and now lives in California. Most of the film weaves in and out of past and present during their dinner scene at a swanky restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea. The serene and romantic dinner date is contrasted with the chaos, suspense, and brief moments of violence that happened during the plane hijacking.
Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton are in top form as the two former lovers who are each other’s ‘one that got away.’ Their chemistry is quite scorching and it’s nice to see smoldering sex scenes that pack real heat. I’m a big fan of Newton who’s so beautiful and talented yet often gets relegated to second-rate roles, so I’m thrilled to see her be a proper female lead whose arc is just integral as his male co-star.
As for Pine, I often think of him as a bit underrated but he gets more interesting as he grows older and chooses unexpected roles. He’s fun to watch in franchise movies like Star Trek, Wonder Woman, etc. but roles like this allow him to make the most of his versatility. One of Hollywood’s best-looking Chris-es (the most handsome one, I might add), he has the charm and devastating good looks of classic movie stars. Here he channels Richard Burton and Robert Redford as the film has the vibes of 60s/70s spy dramas The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Three Days of the Condor.
Helmed by Danish filmmaker Janus Metz, the film is definitely more in the vein of John le Carré’s spy adaptations than Bond movies. It’s an atmospheric slow-burn thriller that doesn’t rely on constant action at break-neck speed, yet even the slower scenes like simple conversations are tinged with tension and suspense. I always like movies that are like puzzles and not bogged down by expository narratives. The premise isn’t overly complex but it kept me guessing throughout until that ‘whoa’ ending.
Steinhauer did an admirable job translating his own book to screen, and Metz skillfully mixes the romance with all the spy elements without shortchanging each of them. Veteran thespians Laurence Fishburne and Jonathan Pryce lend memorable supporting roles as Henry’s boss and Celia’s former mentor, respectively. Pryce must be really into spy-themed projects as I just recently saw him in AppleTV’s Slow Horses as, you guessed it, a former spy!
One thing that I absolutely find mesmerizing is the cinematography by Charlotte Bruus Christensen. There are so many stunning shots in this movie as the characters globe-trotting around the world, I even wish I had seen this on the big screen instead of streaming it at home. Costume designer Stephanie Collie certainly made the already-beautiful actors look even more fetching with incredibly flattering outfits. Celia’s dresses, belted coats, and boots… Henry’s turtleneck, wool peacoat, and scarf… they could start a fashion line based on this movie. I think clothes in movies often get overlooked but it’s more than just style, it adds a distinctive mood plus a sense of mystery and romance in this case.
Overall I really enjoy this one despite some sluggish moments. I guess I don’t mind slow-burn type films with heavy dialog, so long as it’s well-crafted and the performances are engaging. Pine and Newton are such charismatic actors on top of being very easy on the eye. I’m curious to check out Metz’s other directorial work now, and I hope Hollywood would make more romantic spy thrillers in the future.
Have you seen ALL THE OLD KNIVES? What did you think?