How ‘All The Old Knives’ Refreshes The Tired, Old Spy Movie Trope
Expect the unexpected from this espionage thriller. There’s nothing stereotypical about this stellar Amazon Prime Video film.
Cinema has spy movies down to a formula. A disgraced or celebrated agent is presented with an impossible case that they then go ahead to solve against all odds, all while making an unlikely band of comrades along the way. We’ve seen it time and again, and frankly, we’ve had enough. But Danish director Janus Metz Pedersen’s All The Old Knives (streaming on Amazon Prime Video) reinvents the tired, old spy movie genre by tapping into the power of the personal amidst a tale of socio-political intrigue. Based on a screenplay and book of the same name by American writer Olen Steinhauer, All The Old Knives follows a CIA agent (Henry Pelham played by Chris Pine) and former CIA operative (Celia Harrison played by Thandiwe Newton) who fall under scrutiny when the agency discovers one of its agents leaked information that cost more than 100 people their lives in an airplane hijacking.
Relayed via intercutting timelines, All The Old Knives throws all the rules out the window to tell a story that is as mind-bending as it is rewarding. Operating in the past, present and future, All the Old Knives is a sly fox of a movie that grips the viewer and renders a puzzle-like story that’s high on mystery and even higher on suspicion. As the action shifts between Vienna and California’s wine country, Pedersen presents a portrait of special agents that surpasses the conventions of a spy movie. In All The Old Knives, Henry and Celia are deconstructed as human beings and professionals who war with the demands of their high-stakes job and the pull of their passionate personal lives. That Pine and Newton are stellar in their roles as spies only adds to the allure of this slow-burning classic to be.
All The Old Knives also avoids the tropes of most spy movies by choosing to portray a fictional disaster instead of a real-life incident — cases that have previously garnered movies exploitative and sentimental appeal. The terrorist attack that occurs in All The Old Knives is the disastrous hijacking of Royal Jordanian Flight 127 which ends in an avoidable massacre. The one-hour forty-minute runtime of the movie is dedicated to uncovering how the event could’ve been prevented and who, ultimately, is to be blamed for its occurrence. The consequences concur with the choices the agents make in this riveting movie, and Steinhauer pulls all stops to ensure viewers are invested in this messy tale of modern espionage.
Where Pedersen and Steinhauer also succeed is in how they keep viewers on their toes as they unfold the plot of the film. All The Old Knives builds towards a shocking twist that subverts all clichés of the genre while preserving the integrity of its compelling story. The film’s delicate and masterful handling of its most pivotal moments is a testimony to the craft of its makers; it’s surely also an absolute delight for any and all viewers watching the movie.
With All The Old Knives, expect the unexpected. There’s nothing stereotypical about this stellar Amazon Prime Video film.