Janus Metz on ‘All the Old Knives’: ‘A love story and a whodunit’ 

Director Janus Metz

Director Janus Metz

All the Old Knives is a beautiful, tense thriller where former lovers and spies (Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton) discuss a disastrous hijacking over a meal. The movie, which also stars Laurence Fishburne, and Jonathan Pryce, is based on a script by Olen Steinhauer from his eponymous novel.

Director Janus Metz says he loved the idea of a spy story set over the course of a dinner. “It was almost like a chamber play,” the Danish director says over a video call from Los Angeles. “I liked Olin’s tone. For me to take ownership as a director, I have to bring my heart and soul into my storytelling. It has to connect and be real. There was coherence between Olin’s sensibility and my understanding of people’s motivations, longings and desires. The idea of this dinner that works as an interrogation between these two star-crossed lovers was compelling.”

The 48-year-old director describes the film as a love story and a whodunit. “On a character level, it is a love story and on a plot level it is a whodunit.”

Chris Pine was the first person Metz spoke to about the film. “He loved the project. Chris is so perfect at being charismatic, compelling, generous, and good-looking, but at the same time, he can also go very dark like the Henry Palin character.”

Thandiwe Newton in ‘All the Old Knives’

Thandiwe Newton in ‘All the Old Knives’

Thandiwe is an extraordinary soulful, intelligent actress, says Metz. “I thought of Celia as a spy at the top of her game. This story is about hiding truth and playing double games and Thandiwe made that quality tangible in many tiny ways. I also liked the fact that there is a maturity to Thandiwe. I thought she is a woman and a mother when we meet her in the present day in the script, and she holds that as a person. It gave Celia’s character a lot of gravity.” Metz said Newton is also fun to be around on set.

Place settings

Shooting the dinner scene which frames the movie was a challenge from a technical perspective, says Metz. “You need to control the light. We designed the restaurant on a stage and created a backdrop with huge LED screens of the real sunset and ocean of the California coast.”

Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton in ‘All the Old Knives’

Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton in ‘All the Old Knives’

Two weeks of shooting in the same setting was tough the director says as there is a limit to how many shots one can invent with two people around the table. “We had to play a game of minimalism. This was a poker game, an interrogation on how to get into Celia and Henry’s mental state.”

Light, Metz says was almost like a third character in the room. “We chose to make the journey of light an important part of the film. At the end of the day, when they leave the restaurant, it is night and the sun sets on this conversation. We tried to harness all these little elements into the storytelling as part of the dramatic structure.”

Page to screen

A good script does not necessarily have to be faithful to the source novel, Metz says. “Olin, who wrote the novel, also wrote the screenplay of All the Old Knives. He took what he thought was the backbone of his novel and, put it into a screenplay. Olin and I worked on what we thought would be the best film version of the book.”

The film, Metz says, stays true to the core of the book. “The main distinction between literature and film is the former can veer off into all kinds of storytelling that a film cannot.  You have a narrator in literature who can tell you almost anything whereas in film, you have to depend on the visual media. Film is a ‘show, don’t tell’ kind of medium, whereas in literature you have the word. Sometimes the work of translation from one to another is really about creating the visual language and the scenes that capture what you could tell in other ways in a novel.”

Chris Pine in ‘All the Old Knives’

Chris Pine in ‘All the Old Knives’

The film, Metz comments, looks at events over three decades. “During this time the nature of conflicts changed.”

Spy stories, Metz insists, can be elevated into great works of art. The director who counts The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Tinker Tailor, Soldier Spy, and The Third Man among his favourites, says, “The best spy stories talk about how the world changes and how we are caught up in those changes. Tinker Tailor, Soldier Spy has such a melancholic feel. Set after World War Two, the film shows how the West and the East are sucked into their own truths and how the paranoia creates its own realities.”

All the Old Knives streams on Amazon Prime Video from April 8

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2022 9:49:19 pm |