In All The Old Knives, two CIA agents, Henry Pelham (Chris Pine) and Celia Harrison (Thandiwe Newton), who used to be in a relationship, meet to debrief about what really happened in a tragically failed rescue they were part of years before. When terrorists took a plane full of people hostage, the pair were part of the negotiation effort, but when the effort went wrong, it ended Celia’s CIA career and their relationship. Now, Henry is tasked with getting to the bottom of the CIA’s failure, bringing them back together for a cerebral twist on the game of spy vs. spy. Laurence Fishburne and Jonathan Pryce also star.
My opinions about this movie are split. The writing reminds me of a good book, which is no surprise because the screenplay was written by Olen Steinhauer, based on his bestselling spy novel. The plotting of the story, moving between the past and present, slowly unveils a series of betrayals in both timelines, and kept me wondering. The word that kept coming to mind for me as I watched was elegant. The old-school vibe of the screenplay is by far the best part of the movie.
The execution of this good writing, however, is lackluster. Chris Pine is usually so charming, with such screen presence, but in this role, his performance is dull. Thandiwe Newton delivers some striking, emotional scenes, but overall, I did not feel invested in her character. Perhaps the pair lacks chemistry together or perhaps the slow-burn of the plot is just too slow. The art direction emphasizes a dim, dark color palette, which gives many scenes an almost icy quality. Maybe the lighting dimmed the chemistry. Maybe the issue was the criminal under-use of Laurence Fishburne. I cannot put my finger on it exactly, but All the Old Knives drags, making the final twist flat and uninteresting.
Ultimately, watching All the Old Knives made me want to read the book, which is undoubtedly better. I would wager that much of the drag in the movie comes from poor editing during the adaptation process, which lowered the stakes overall. For those who enjoy the spy genre, this movie is sure to please, but for others, it might be too slow.
All the Old Knives was written by Olen Steinhauer, based on his novel, and directed by Janus Metz. It runs 1 hour 41 minutes and is rated R for sexuality, violence, and language. It is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.
In an entirely different genre, the HBO documentary mini-series Not So Pretty examines the negative impact of the beauty industry on our health over four episodes: Makeup, Nails, Skin, and Hair. Each episode uses the testimony of journalists, lawyers, and consumers to explain particularly unhealthy ingredients, such as talc, phthalates, BPA, and formaldehyde. Each episode also ends with dos and don’ts for the consumer when purchasing beauty and self-care products.
Not So Pretty has a sleek look and upbeat narration from Keke Palmer, paired with often shocking allegations against beauty companies. Johnson & Johnson comes out looking especially bad. The overall effect of the series, however, is similar to a beauty magazine article—pretty superficial. I appreciate that each episode directs the viewer to further resources for looking at ingredients and how they are rated for safety by outside organizations. Ultimately, the series is just a jumping-off point for concerned consumers (and that should be all of us).
It often feels like we face a constant barrage of bad news about the consumer products we bring into our homes, exposing our bodies and our environment to pollution. Watching this series, I yelled at my tv a couple of times, “We don’t need all of this stuff!” What I appreciate most about this series is that, despite its superficiality, its upbeat tone aims to empower us consumers to use available resources to stop buying toxic products and, hopefully, as a group, pressure the industry to do better by us all.
Not So Pretty was created by Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick. It runs for four 25 to 30-minute episodes and is rated TV-14.
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