Spy games often make for good entertainment and the latest addition to the storied genre, Amazon Studios’ All the Old Knives, is solid, but not incredibly memorable. Directed by Janus Metz, the film is based on the novel of the same name by Olen Steinhauer (who also wrote the script) and has plenty of the familiar tropes present in decades of espionage tales. All the Old Knives is a slick venture largely held up by performances from Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton. It tells an intriguing story, though there’s a good chance that many audience members will be able to predict the final twist before it arrives. Ultimately, All the Old Knives lacks innovation, but it still serves up an entertaining ride thanks to Pine and Newton’s twisty dynamic. Though mostly set eight years after the fact, All the Old Knives revolves around the devastating events of Flight 127. Hijackers took over the plane when it landed in Vienna, and despite the apparent best efforts of the CIA agents stationed there, over 100 hostages lost their lives. In the present day, Chief of Station Victor Wallinger (Laurence Fishburne) recruits veteran case officer Henry Pelham (Pine) to determine whether there was a mole working among them during the hijacking. Henry seeks out his former co-worker and ex-lover Celia Harrison (Newton) and, over the course of one meal, unravels the truth behind what happened on that fateful day.
The cat-and-mouse game that ensues between Henry and Celia makes for some good intrigue, but it takes a little bit to settle in. Steinhaur’s screenplay briefly introduces Flight 127 before jumping ahead eight years, directly to the moment where Vic tells Henry about the potential mole. It’s a jarring transition, but Metz clearly wishes to get right into the meat of the story. From there, All the Old Knives flits freely between the past and the present where Henry and Celia sit down for their interview, with editors Mark Eckersley and Per Sandholt working to keep the transitions smooth. The overall effect this has on the story is it keeps the deep history of these characters at the forefront of their present day interaction, and for the most part, it works well. However, the constant cutting back and forth in All the Old Knives’ early scenes makes for a muddled introduction to this world and these characters. Once Celia begins her story, things settle considerably. To his credit, Steinhaur does keep audiences guessing about the truth behind the supposed mole. Henry seems to think that there can’t even be one, but it’s clear that All the Old Knives is gearing up for a big reveal. There is a twist that upends what has been previously revealed, but whether it is genuinely surprising might depend on the individual viewer. There are clues about who might be responsible, and audience members familiar with spy tropes can likely work out the truth. Up until that reveal arrives, Metz keeps things moving at an engaging pace. Celia walks Henry and the audience through the day Flight 127 was taken over, and there is some genuine suspense in her story. Whenever the action does shift to the inside of the plane, Metz ups the terror and unease to the point where some might find it unsettling to watch. Overall, though, All the Old Knives keeps its attention firmly on Celia and Henry’s lengthy lunchtime meetup. Having the two main characters stay in one place for much of the present day’s action would run the risk of keeping things stagnant if the story didn’t frequently cut elsewhere. Metz also decides to occasionally weave in bits of Henry’s conversation two weeks prior with another former co-worker, Bill (Jonathan Pryce). This is undoubtedly done to sow additional uncertainty in the audience, but it is less effective than the flashbacks to Flight 127.
Pine and Newton make an appealing couple. Pine is every inch the suave spy who is confident in his abilities, and he hints at Henry’s hidden depths without actually showing his hand. Newton, meanwhile, keeps a cool exterior that gets to crack more and more as the film goes on, both in the past and the present. Supporting players like Fishburne and Pryce are solid, but aren’t given much to do overall. All the Old Knives is really a showdown between Newton and Pine, though their world could’ve been improved by a bit more depth from everyone else. Still, their dynamic is compelling. In the end, All the Old Knives makes for a perfectly entertaining movie night. It might not be the kind of film that sticks with audiences, but it has more than enough intrigue to keep viewers invested. The jumping from the past to the present muddles up the delivery a bit and largely gives the impression Metz wanted to play a spy game of his own with the audience. Anyone looking for a classic espionage thriller will likely be comforted by the familiar way this unravels, and that’s not a bad thing. Even average spy movies can be fun.