How Amazon has sold a thriller of friendship and betrayal.
Based on the Olen Steinhauer novel of the same name, All The Old Knives is an espionage thriller centered around the relationship between CIA agents Henry Pelham (Chris Pine) and Celia Harrison (Thandiwe Newton). The former couple reunite when Pelham is assigned to investigate Harrison and her suspected connection to an airline hijacking that’s still an open case.
Laurence Fishburne and Jonathan Pryce co-star in the movie, directed by Janus Metz and with a screenplay by Steinhauer, opens in a limited theatrical run this weekend at the same time it debuts on Amazon Prime Video.
Let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.
announcements and casting
When the movie was first announced in mid-2017, Pine was already attached to star alongside Michelle Williams.
Amazon signed on to produce the film in September of 2020. At that time Newton was cast to replace Williams, who had bowed out because of scheduling conflicts. Metz was also brought on to replace James Marsh as director.
Fishburne and Pryce joined the cast around the same time.
the marketing campaign
The campaign for the movie really began just a little over a month ago, when the first poster was released at the beginning of March. That poster doesn’t offer much in the way of story detail but does attempt to set a mood by showing all four of the main characters arranged in shadows and darkness. At the bottom a mysterious figure runs through a darkened hallway, helping to establish we’re dealing with a story of danger and intrigue.
At the same time the first trailer (4.6m YouTube views) came out. It opens with the reunion of Henry and Celia, but we quickly find that Henry has been tasked with finding out whether a team of hijackers had help from a mole inside the CIA. Specifically, with finding out if Celia was that mole. Their past relationship is both a help and a hindrance in the investigation as it becomes less and less clear who is playing who in the search for the truth.
A bit later in March the studio held a red carpet premiere for the movie in London, with Pine, Newton and others in attendance. At that premiere Pine talked about working with an intimacy coordinator for the love scenes with Newton while the whole cast also discussed what – or in some cases who – attracted them to the project and what they thought of the script and working with each other.
A second poster was released just a few days ago that shifts the focus to the relationship between the two main characters, showing them close together in an intimate moment.
It’s a surprisingly light campaign and the reason why isn’t clear in my mind. But the movie has a positive 86% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, a mark of the generally good reviews it’s been getting.
As for the marketing itself, it seems to be selling an old-fashioned kind of cerebral espionage thriller. There’s not a single explosion or car chase to be seen here. Instead it’s filled with hidden meanings, secrets between former lovers, institutional agendas and more that are less Bond and more le Carré. But it sells all that with two very good looking, popular and relatively young stars at the forefront, making it seem less boring and more steamy, which is the central message being conveyed here.