All The Old Knives – Movie Review

Character Study with Top-Notch Actors and a Few Plot Issues

I love spy movies. I don’t need them to be full of exploding bodies and violent torture. What I love is the intricacy of never knowing who to trust, of characters forced to betray people to serve a larger good, and the many gray areas that life inhabits. The two main actors in All The Old Knives do a beautiful job in their character portrayals. The main issues I have are with the underlying book that this movie is based on.

First, the premise. About ten years ago, there was a tragic airplane hostage situation with terrorists. Everyone on the plane ended up dying in poison gas. Two spies (Pine, Newton) were traumatized by this and their relationship fell apart. We meet up with them in modern times, when Newton has moved on. She has a husband and children. Pine is tasked with reviewing the airplane tragedy and figuring out if a mole was involved.

A beautiful part of the way All The Old Knives unfolds is that you look back to the characters before the airplane tragedy, when the characters were just getting started in the spy-world. You get to see how they reacted to the hostage situation unfolding. And then you also get to watch them in a much more mature state, when they have had time to reflect.

I’m thrilled that Newton was older than Pine. So many stories have the older man – much younger woman trope. It’s refreshing that there are alternatives to that.

I am absolutely baffled by people who found the three-time-period situation confusing. We’re only talking about two characters – and they are played by the exact same actors!! Do these people watch Game of Thrones or any of the other wildly complicated shows that are out there nowadays? All The Old Knives was if anything a breath of fresh air in that regard. There were barely seven or so main cast members total in the entire movie. I found it incredibly easy to understand and beautiful to watch how the characters were developing and changing.

As with all good spy movies, there were twists and turns to keep you guessing who was actually responsible for the betrayal – and why.

The issues I have with the movie involve some of those details.


A reviewer mentioned that it would be iffy for the terrorists to get large volumes of guns and ammo onto a plane through security. We only see 2 guns, I believe, and only maybe 4 shots are fired that I know of. They gassed everyone else. I think we can suspend disbelief that the terrorists were able to smuggle in parts for 2 guns and a handful of ammo.

There’s a reason colleagues are not supposed to get intimately involved in spy situations. It clouds judgement. It turns out that Pine had previously been forced to betray someone in the line of duty and it tore away at him. When he then gets to the hostage situation, he is once again told either he betrays an agent on the plane of Newton is going to be sacrificed. Pine chooses to save Newton and give up the agent.

Pine didn’t cause the plane to be gassed!! He just sacrificed the identity of one agent on the plane. And, heck, that agent only texted that MAYBE a rescue could be launched in a certain way. If the agent was smart he wouldn’t be sending plain-speak text messages to anyone, in case his phone was found. Also, he should have been deleting each text after he sent it, for the same reason. So even if he was ‘sold out’ and his phone taken, the terrorists wouldn’t have known the attack he’d suggested. They wouldn’t have known anything at all. Why didn’t the terrorists search everyone for phones in the first place?

Still, it’s an issue that Pine gave up an agent to protect his lover Newton. True. So then here we are, years later, and Pine is still pining over Newton. He loves her even though she’s moved on. He accepts the task, from his bosses, to interview Newton and another guy to see if either is responsible for ratting out the agent. Clearly he knows neither is the mole since Pine himself is the mole. But still Pine HIRES A HITMAN to lurk around in case Newton is the mole and needs to be killed. Newton, the woman he still adores. Why would Pine even take the chance that something goes wrong and the hitman kills her?

Pine harasses the other guy, who of course calls Newton to warn her. Together the two dump everything they know about Pine to the higher-ups who decide they’re going to kill Pine without even figuring out first if he really is guilty. The higher-ups have Newton agree to have dinner with Pine and Pine is poisoned AT DINNER. So he is already dead (but doesn’t know it yet). Then Newton and Pine chat, really just so there is more documentation about what Pine did. But again they don’t even know for sure Pine is the mole or if he had a good rationale for what he did! By the time Newton finds out Pine betrayed the agent to save her, it’s too late. He’s dead anyway. And he can barely keep the hitman from killing her. I suppose it creates a Romeo-Juliet tension of whether they will both end up dying, but plot-wise it makes no sense.

And, again, it’s not like revealing the agent was the make-or-break of the hostage situation. It was sheer luck there was even an agent on the plane. All the agent did was suggest the soldiers attack from a specific angle. The soldiers could have figured out some sort of a plan without the agent. They chose to do nothing at all, and they knew what the result would be.

Separately, for a movie which is 100% focused on character relationships, they primarily had the two spies having sex to show they were a meaningful couple. It seemed fairly gratuitous. There are many other ways to show a couple is truly close and trusting. Heck, non-trusting people have sex.

And also, a number of the key “revelations” in the flashbacks were things that a loving trusting couple should absolutely have known about each other already. It didn’t make sense that this would be something suddenly revealed all these years later. If anything, maybe the over-focus on sex and the lack of knowledge about each other shows Pine was a fool to have loved Newton so much to risk an agent’s life for her.

So, anyway, I’ll give it 4/5 for the great actors and an intriguing story. But there are definitely enough issues here that it doesn’t get that final star.

The Last Kingdom - Padling

The Last Kingdom – Padling

Merry Christmas! My writing group author’s epic fantasy book 1 is FREE today – please download a copy! 4.9 stars!

The more downloads we get, the higher her ranking rises! Share the news! Thanks!!

What are you up to today?

And then the Giant Dragon Cat of Antioch did decide it must intrude on the book photo shoot, and verily it did Insert itself into the Tableau …

The Prestige - Christian and Hugh

The Prestige – Christopher Nolan

There are many Christopher Nolan fans who count The Prestige as their favorite movie of his ever. The movie follows the conflicts between two competing magicians, played by amazingly talented actors Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. The actors throughout this movie are fantastic, and there are all of Christopher Nolan’s typical twists and turns.

Why am I just not into this version?

First, I saw this movie late in the cycle. I had already enjoyed many of Nolan’s later movies when I decided to rewatch them all in order from the beginning. That meant I saw The Prestige long after seeing other of his “masterpieces”. It could easily be that if I’d seen this first, I’d have been spellbound by the interweaving of time and character and twist. However, by the time I saw The Prestige, I had fairly high expectations. I already knew the actors would be wonderful. I know the writing would be great. I was looking for that extra something.


My boyfriend and I love magic and watch magician-themed shows fairly often. So the topic should have drawn us in. I also love historical films, so the Victorian setting also was intriguing. However, the entire plot just didn’t hold up to what I was expecting.

First, it was fairly clear right from the beginning that Hugh and Christian would become fierce rivals. It was fairly clear that Hugh’s wife would die tragically due to Christian’s idiocy about tying knots ON HIS FRIEND’S WIFE. And how could she possibly die after only sixty seconds (or slightly more) in the water? CPR was known about in Europe and England since the mid-1700s. These high-water-usage nations dealt with victims of near-drowning fairly non-stop. They would know how to rescue her! And she hadn’t even been in the water for that long. So the entire wife-dying scene was ludicrous.

Then they didn’t inspect the knots? If I was the husband that would be the FIRST thing I did after I stopped sobbing my eyes out. And then I would have killed Christian. Over, the end.

So then we have Christian obsessing about a Chinese magician who is super-strong but pretends to be weak all day long so his act retains its power. And Christian has two personalities where he half-the-time loves his wife and half-the-time doesn’t. It is instantly clear he has a twin brother (who happens to be always near him in poor make-up) to do his planned-for perfect trick.

So I kept waiting for the actual twist-reveal which went beyond this obvious point.

But, no. Christian gives a fake diary to Hugh which Hugh somehow takes eternally long to translate and gets that done at the perfect time – AND the place he goes to miraculously creates a PERFECT CLONING MACHINE (I am not kidding) which can make an exact clone of him any time he wants. Nobody uses this to clone gold or medicine or food or anything useful. Instead, Hugh decides to use this to (again, not kidding) clone himself EVERY NIGHT and kill that clone EVERY NIGHT to do a magic trick. Why not just clone himself once and then have both clones keep doing the trick? Why kill every single clone one after another and build 100 water-boxes to keep drowning the clones in, and KEEP ALL THE DEAD BODIES?

You can say, he needed a freshly-dead body to be able to frame Christian for that death, but surely if you have an exact-cloning machine you can come up with a far more elegant way to frame Christian. And you don’t need all the bloating decaying bodies in a warehouse for all of time. Plus, it is ridiculous that this super-famous magician that is seen by thousands of British citizens would never be recognized as the wealthy lord. There were plenty of wealthy people in that audience.

I was incredibly disappointed in the end. The Christian side simply had the twin brothers, which was fairly obvious from the beginning. Hugh was the wealthy lord, which we knew pretty much from the beginning, too. Hugh’s wife stupidly trusted Christian to tie knots and died in a breath or two. Christian’s wife stupidly lived with his switching personalities and then killed herself in desperation, even though she had a daughter. She should have just left the jerk. And the mistress who loved Hugh and then flippantly switched to love the “Christian alter ego” stomps off. The women all seem incredibly one-dimensional and define themselves just by the man who loves them.

And that whole Tesla twist – that he just happened to build a machine that clones ANYTHING AT ALL and they figure it should be used for a murdering magic trick? That really ruined it all for me.

Plus, how could Christian not see through the shoddy make-up and realize his arch-rival who he knew intimately was there about to shoot him? How could Hugh not see through the shoddy make-up and realize his arch-rival was about to destroy his trick? How could that exact one person be the one chosen to help out? It boggles the mind.

I love the actors. I love their acting! It’s this plot that just doesn’t cut it. Again, maybe it was OK when it released. But now? It makes the twists so obvious right from the beginning that I kept waiting for a twist on the twist. Instead, that is all we got, and it ends with Hugh and his bloated warehouse of dead clones, while Christian, who TORTURED HIS WIFE FOR YEARS with this stupid obsession with magic (and undoubtedly had his brother sleeping with his wife!!) gets to run off with his daughter.

No. No no no.

I am baffled how I can not love a movie with these two great actors in it, never mind Michael Caine and the others. Especially one directed by Christopher Nolan. But there you have it. I watched it just to get the sequence in order, but I have zero interest in watching it again.

Insomnia - Christopher Nolan

Insomnia – Truth and Lies with Christopher Nolan

After watching Tenet recently, we went on a quest to rewatch all of Christopher Nolan’s movies with a fresh eye. Insomnia was Nolan’s third movie and his first real “big budget” movie. How well did Nolan do with this remake of a Norwegian thriller? [note: SPOILERS!]

First, Nolan is graced (as he seems always to be) with top-notch acting talent. The three main leads are Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank. Each does quite well in their role, bringing texture and reality to their world. Al Pacino is a decorated LA cop with an edge. Robin Williams is a local Alaskan author entwined with the young woman who was murdered. Hilary Swank is the traditional eager young cop thrilled to be working with someone she’s idolized from afar.

The original movie was a moody exploration of the meaningless of life. But Nolan is at the helm of a Hollywood blockbuster and in general Hollywood isn’t keen on the Scandanavian-style brooding “death is all around us” type of storyline. So Nolan instead re-aims the story. He gives it a strong good vs evil arc and draws the focus in on the truth and lies – something he addresses over and over again in his movies.

So we have Al Pacino who is working with a dirty cop. Pacino accidentally shoots the dirty cop during a chase in the fog, and he has to lie about it because otherwise the IA investigation would think Pacino shot his partner on purpose. It turns out Pacino did actually cross the lines once, in framing a nasty pedophile who tortured and killed a young boy. Pacino was dirty, but “for the right reasons”. So now this leads to a new lie, again for the right reasons.

Unfortunately for Pacino, Williams saw this partner-shooting and realizes he has leverage. Williams negotiates with Pacino to construct an outcome where they both get away with their killings, by framing the dead girl’s boyfriend. It’s true that boyfriend wasn’t the nicest of people. Still, it’s a far cry from the boyfriend beating up his girlfriend to framing him for a brutal ten-minute-long beating murder. Also, letting Pacino get away with accidentally killing his partner is different from letting Williams get away with that aforesaid brutal murder of a teenage girl.

Mixed into this is the Insomnia of the title. Alaska is a fascinating place for many reasons, and their all-day-every-day light cycle is definitely intriguing. I have to say, having visited Alaska a number of times, that hotels WOULD HAVE FULL DARK CURTAINS and the idea that it’s brightly lit in his bedroom 24 hours a day feels ridiculous. Surely they could have constructed his inability to sleep some other way. In any case, the multi-day-no-sleep leads to exhaustion, hallucinations, poor judgement, and so on.

The storyline in the Nolan version feels heavy-handed, Williams is a creepy man who brutally murdered a teenage girl for selfish reasons and simply wants to get away with it. Pacino discusses how this sort of action changes a person so the killer slides into wanting to do it more and more, as they realize it’s a power within their reach. That would indicate that Williams is definitely someone you do NOT want to have loose in the world.

Pacino is a cop with decades of hard work under his belt. I’m a little more accepting of him – just once – crossing the line to keep a brutal pedophile locked up. The same mentality is here – if Pacino had not stopped him, who knows how many other young children would have been tortured and slain before the evidence was enough to stop him. Pacino took his action with anguish and for the good of the community.

I don’t see the two men as equivalent.

I appreciate the theme of truth and lies. We all tell ourselves lies to keep our world view whole. We create justifications for the rules we break, telling ourselves that there’s an important reason we’ve done it. It keeps our path in life held together. If someone else breaks the rules in a different way, we make judgements that our own rule-breaking is OK but theirs is not OK, based on sometimes arbitrary lines.

That being said, I think Christopher Nolan’s other movies took on these kinds of questions in far more elegant ways. Insomnia feels like many other high-budget thrillers. Sure, it’s a bit more cerebral and insightfully paced than an explosion-filled screeching-tires type of thriller. But it’s also fairly straightforward from start to finish. Two LA cops arrive in Alaska. While tracking a killer, one cop is shot. The other quickly finds the killer and then figures out how to take him down. Killer is killed. It’s much more linear than I tend to look for. I’d like at least SOME challenge in finding the killer.

I understand that the hunt for the killer isn’t the main point of the movie, though. It’s about how Pacino views truth and lies, right and wrong. In the end, he confesses to Swank, a woman who idolizes him, just what really happened when he planted evidence. And when Swank offers to cover up Pacino’s shooting of his partner, Pacino tells her to be truthful, no matter what the consequences. Even if it means that child torturer goes free. Because, in the end, it’s more important that she live a life she can respect and be proud of. Someone else will catch that child torturer eventually. She has to trust in that.

That right there is about the exact opposite of the original Norwegian film. In the Norwegian film, the message was that the universe is brutal, cold, and chaotic. Killers can kill without any consequences. Here in the US, we tend to like stories where good guys prevail and bad guys are shot and killed. Nolan needed to prove to US moviemakers that he could make the kind of movie they wanted to see, while also weaving in his own questions about the way we see the world.

So in that sense I think Nolan did about the best he could. The movie was a hit, movie companies loved it, and he was entrusted with huge budgets going forward so he could make the movies he wanted to make. For film watchers, the movie is a solid thriller with great acting and lovely scenery. For me it’s not as amazingly cool / rewatchable as his other works, but that is all right. Maybe we view this as a stepping stone to what he wanted to do.

When the Dead Walk by Cassandra Jones

When the Dead Walk by Cassandra Jones

When the Dead Walk by Cassandra Jones – a classic horror story scenario. A teen girl is home alone in her rural farmhouse. She notices her community members are approaching the home from all sides, staggering, walking oddly …

Part of the SmashBear Publishing collection “The Abyss Within” of horror short stories.

To see my full video review, visit