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Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton on How 'All the Old Knives' Pays Homage to Classic Spy Thrillers

Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton discuss the classic film influences, from Alfred Hitchcock to David Lean, on 'All the Old Knives.'
by Scott Huver — 
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Thandiwe Newton and Chris Pine in 'All the Old Knives'

Amazon Studios

Neither Chris Pine nor Thandiwe Newton are strangers to the espionage/geopolitical thriller genre — after all, he played a youthful version of author Tom Clancy's hero Jack Ryan on screen, while she co-starred opposite Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt in the second installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise. But both actors admit they favor spy dramas that have more of the potboiling intrigue of John Le Carré over the slam-bang secret agent spectacle of Ian Fleming. Throw in a generous measure of tortured romance, evoking shades of Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious, and they have even more story meat to sink their teeth into in their latest film, All the Old Knives.

From Danish filmmaker Janus Metz Pedersen (Borg/McEnroe) with a screenplay by spy novelist and Berlin Station creator Olen Steinhauer, based on his book of the same title, All the Old Knives stars Pine and Newton as long-estranged espionage agents and former lovers whose romance was collateral damage in the fallout of a hijacking incident that went disastrously wrong. Years later, the two must face each other again, with equal parts regret and suspicion, as Pine's character, Henry, attempts to reveal the mole within the CIA that led the case to its fatal conclusion. 

They duo leaned enthusiastically into slyly evoking the cinematic mood and style of the classics that preceded them for this film.

"As you are watching the thing happen, you can see what their characters can't see, so actually what this film requires is the audience in order to make it what it is," Newton tells Metacritic. "It doesn't exist without an audience. I think that, for me, is why I love these kinds of movies: because it requires an audience to finish off the puzzle. We don't want that to have happened or we do want that to have happened, so we leave the cinema going that mustn't happen: These two should have been together." 

"You could put it on a template in another industry, another profession, but you've got people who are desperately trying to carve out their path," she adds. "Sometimes in doing that, you hurt someone else. And if you don't know elements to the puzzle, you might hurt someone without even really realizing it, like, 'Oh my God, information is key and trust is everything.'" 

Much of the film's allure — and its tension — derives from the carefully calibrated chemistry between the two leads as they circle each other after years apart, each still uncertain of the exact chain of events that caused their split but also continuing to feel a overwhelming pull toward each other.  

"It's fun to be madly in love with a beautiful, intelligent woman that you like being around," Pine tells Metacritic (with a laugh) about developing both the intimate romantic connection of the film's past sequences and the fractured rapport with the contemporary scenes. "It's also equally, contrapuntally very fun to play all of that passion, but at a one, containing the 10 level of drive and fire that you have. So, there was a contained aspect in the present day stuff, and there was an ability to really enjoy the full physicality and the fullness of that love in the past." 

"It really is star crossed lovers, isn't it? Your Romeo and Juliet," adds Newton. "We see it a lot where for lovers, the obstacle to their love doesn't mean that the love wasn't real. That doesn't mean that at all." 

Both actors acknowledge All the Old Knives debts to classic fare in a similar vein, such as Notorious, Casablanca, and Doctor Zhivago — "People who just miss each other," explains Newton — and they were more than willing to lean into some of the established traditions set down by filmmakers from Hitchcock, to Michael Curtiz and David Lean

"For me, this story is a very classical, tropey — and I mean that in the best sense of the word — genre piece," says Pine. "I had a very particular idea of what I wanted it to feel like. [There are] certain visual cues, like a turtleneck and a peacoat is for me a very firstly aesthetically appealing image, but it's also an image that, along with a cobblestone and a gray cityscape, immediately places you in a particular kind of story. So, I loved playing right into those things for an audience to grab a hold of." 

"It almost felt black and white to me," adds Newton, likening the film to pre-color classics like Lean's Brief Encounter. "The movie's not [in] black and white, but it has lots of hiding in shadows."

Newton notes that director Metz Pederson and cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen were very detail-oriented when it came to capturing the right mood for a romantically-charged espionage tale, citing "their keenness to bring us into the look of the movie, to reference Bergman. Even right in the very beginning, shots of how we would look close-up together, using other movies as references."  

"That's really cool, but it also made me realize that how it looked was incredibly important to our director, so it made me much more considerate in terms of costume," she adds. "And because I love the way things look, to actually have the opportunity to give my input, and the people that inspired me — Faye Dunaway and Jane Fonda, those movies in the '70s, gorgeous films — I felt like I was able to really honor women in cinema that have meant so much to me in their strength and their independence and their willingness to be in a man's world."

All the Old Knives is