Dramatically dulled 'Knives' a cut below standard-issue espionage thrillers

  • In the terrorist thriller "All the Old Knives," two fellow CIA operatives and former lovers (Thandiwe Newton and Chris Pine) agree to a potentially deadly dinner in an upscale restaurant.

    In the terrorist thriller "All the Old Knives," two fellow CIA operatives and former lovers (Thandiwe Newton and Chris Pine) agree to a potentially deadly dinner in an upscale restaurant. Courtesy of Amazon Studios

  • CIA boss Vick Wallinger (Laurence Fishburne) assigns a veteran agent to check out new evidence that a CIA mole might be responsible for helping terrorists take over an airliner back in 2012.

    CIA boss Vick Wallinger (Laurence Fishburne) assigns a veteran agent to check out new evidence that a CIA mole might be responsible for helping terrorists take over an airliner back in 2012. Courtesy of Amazon Studios

 
 
Posted4/7/2022 6:00 AM

"All the Old Knives" - ★

I once loved the tints and shades of teal in movies.

 

But by the time I saw 2015's "Brooklyn" with its array of teal-colored sweaters, buildings and taxi cabs, my bleary eyes had already succumbed to Teal Overdose Syndrome, the result of being overexposed to this seemingly omnipresent color palette in all genres of film and streaming programs.

This week, Amazon Studios unleashes the king of all cinematic teal deals: "All the Old Knives," Danish director Janus Metz's dull-bladed whodunit that appears to have been dipped in cyan dye.

In one scene with Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton, not only do the curtains, walls, furniture and costumes radiate tealness, Pine's eyes -- at least on the screener I saw -- appear to glow teal.

The sameness of this color scheme reflects the sameness of the breathy, whispered monotone line deliveries from the two stars, stuck with rendering a mountain of verbose exposition (from screenwriter Olen Steinhauer, adapting his own novel) into something resembling coherent and realistic conversation.

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CIA boss Vick Wallinger (a woefully underutilized Laurence Fishburne) assigns veteran agent Henry Pelham (Pine) to check out new evidence that a CIA mole might be responsible for helping terrorists take over Royal Jordanian Flight 127 back in 2012.

Everyone aboard died.

To flush out the mole, Pelham interviews two key agents who once worked with him in the CIA's Vienna office: Bill Compton (Jonathan Pryce), now retired in London, and Celia Harrison (Newton), who inexplicably resigned, quickly married and raised a family after having a torrid fling with Pelham.

As part of his interrogation, he invites Celia to an extremely leisurely lunch -- extending way into the night -- in a charming Carmel-by-the-Sea restaurant, a nifty framing device that anchors a succession of flashbacks, many of them detailing their affair in standard-issue montages of tastefully arranged body parts.

On the espionage spectrum, "All the Old Knives" tilts toward John le Carre-based thrillers, heavy on psychological conflict, light on physical action. Even so, Metz's movie is still a slog in need of some dramatic sparks.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Pine (also an executive producer here) and Newton are strong actors, yet their conflicted, morally compromised characters exude all the chemistry of two assembly-line workers struggling to get through their shifts.

"Nobody got out clean after Flight 127!" Pelham tells Harrison.

He's right. Nobody did.

Everybody got out in teal.

• • •

Starring: Chris Pine, Thandiwe Newton, Laurence Fishburne, Jonathan Pryce

Directed by: Janus Metz

Other: An Amazon Studios release in theaters and on Amazon Prime. Rated R for language, nudity, sexual situations, violence. 101 minutes

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