Starring: Chris Pine, Thandiwe Newton, Laurence Fishburne, and Jonathan Pryce.
Directed By: Janus Metz
Where I Watched It: Amazon
English Audio Description Available?: Yes
Description Provided By: Deluxe
Narrated By: Zambie Page
The Plot: A former operative (Pine) is trying to wrap up an old case involving a hostage event gone horribly wrong, and meets an old colleague (Newton) at a restaurant to discuss the events as they transpired searching for closure.
What Works: That’s the best plot I can give you without spoilers. What works? I’ve seen other critics hail this film for the chemistry between Pine and Newton, but I just thought they did OK. I didn’t believe their relationship was so intense that they were dating off screen or anything. They have a normal level of chemistry. They are good actors.
in fact, the acting in this film is fine, if not subdued at times. But I don’t think that’s the problem with the actors as much as awful direction. The film isn’t interested in being an action packed, or even remotely heart pounding spy thriller. It wants to linger in the minutia of what people in these jobs probably actually do, instead of continuing to propagate the spy genre like Bond or Bourne. And it just winds up dull.
But I can’t take anything away from the actors, because they seem to just be delivering the tempo that the director wanted. Bad directing, not acting.
And while I still think there was a more compelling ending (look for a brief paragraph after my grade that will include spoilers explaining how), I do have to acknowledge that the film does have a 4th act, final hour twist. And it is clever, but there’s a better one.
What Doesn’t Work: I despise almost everything else about the film, from the pacing, to casting Fishburne and Pryce in pointless roles that give them nothing to do. Don’t cast heavy hitters and never put them up at bat. That was so disappointing, how insignificant to the actual film their characters are.
The film is so slow. I couldn’t care about anything, and it’s only like 100 minutes long. It’s not even long enough to warrant feeling like a dirge, but the pacing here will leave you wishing you had watched something adapted by john leCarre instead of just someone trying to pretend to be him.
All The Old Knives uses flashbacks to try and give life to the proceedings, but the moments chosen are sparingly and almost void of a distinct timeline or nature in which they seem to be necessary. Certain things are needed to know the plot, sure, but we don’t need that awkward data dump of exposition masquerading as natural conversation by Newton at the beginning of their restaurant meet up. That was clunky, at best.
There’s a sense of urgency with this hostage scene that just highlights that everyone is on ambien. Instead of racing to find a solution, or beating up someone to save some lives, we instead get the worlds calmest conversation between Pine’s character and an informant of his. He really doesn’t seem pressed to save those lives, even though at that point in the plot, he absolutely should be.
And while the first 75% of the film is boring, I might give this film some acknowledgement for having an interesting twist, however a twist does not make a good film. A good twist is remembered for being a good twist, and it can be remembered separate from the quality of the rest of the film. Bad films have had great twists at the end, it doesn’t make the film better. It just does enough to wake the audience up so they don’t fall asleep and wake up when the theatre lights come on after the credits are over.
The Blind Perspective: Frustratingly, this has excellent audio description. Why do bad films always have great audio description? Hilarious. But the audio description here fills in a lot of the unsaid things between characters who like to have these long drawn out moments of staring at each other. We’re told what their non verbal reactions are, whether they’re fiddling with a pack of cigarettes or a wine glass. It’s excellent audio description, but it can’t save this film.
And yes, the audio description is necessary. While this movie is a slow burn centered around dialogue, there are still several things you would need to know happen that are not said in dialogue. So it’s great that this film has it, so at least it can make sense.
Final Thoughts: Dreadfully slow, it will test your limits as to what to expect from an espionage film. I almost refuse to call this a thriller. i just think it’s a slow burn that’s still waiting for the fire to ignite. There’s a spark at the end, but not all sparks lead to fires. And this film that feels like a less interesting composite of several other films you’ve seen before won’t do anything but make you wish you had seen one of those other films instead.
Final Grade: D+
How It Should Have ended: (Spoilers)
The film plays a little with the idea of what is the value of a life, or what are you willing to give to save a life. ultimately, as we learn in the final twist, Pine was the mole all along, but only did so because he loved Newton and her life was in danger, something she was unaware of. So to save her life, he gave up information, and hostages died. Essentially, he’s investigating himself, but using this as an opportunity to reconnect with his past love.
However, as we learn, Newton is working with someone too, someone who told her he was the mole, and she already has her own plan in motion. She ends up poisoning Pine, only after boring the audience to death forever. After she’s certain the poison has set in, she asks him why, and that’s when she learns the horrifying truth that he did it to save her life, and now she has just ended his.
however, an operative working with pine leaves and is following Newton home, unseen. He calls Pine looking for an affirmative on the kill shot, and in the film, he doesn’t get it, so she goes home to her family.
The nihilist in me says the stronger, and more dangerous ending is to make the entire event pointless by having the operative kill Newton also. That way, everyone died… for what? Just because of a lack of communication, and in a world of espionage where secrets are often held too close, isn’t that the more compelling ending? That pine gave up information to save Newton, which ultimately led to a loss of other lives, and Newton believing he was a bad agent and needing to kill him. So if the operative had killed her anyway, it was all for naught, simply because these two characters presented as lovers, can’t even communicate to each other in this high stakes world.
Instead, our final shot is Newton enjoying her life at home with her kid and husband. It just doesn’t pack quite that punch.