Does the Liberal-leaning Knife Fight engage the audience in the war that is a political campaign, or is it bound for a scandal of its own?
The political drama Knife Fight suggests that most campaigns are more like gladiatorial battles than efforts to serve the public good. Fraught with sexual scandals, drug use, and other missteps that can ruin even the toughest of people, the life of a politician is displayed as a thankless and even dangerous affair. Having run two city council campaigns myself, I'm not sure I agree with this assessment; and yet there is much about Knife Fight with which I can identify from my experiences. Unfortunately, the portrayals within are neither accurate nor inspiring, with a serious lean towards the Liberal viewpoint. In many ways, it's no better than this year's other political flop The Campaign.
Paul Turner (Rob Lowe, The West Wing series) is the best political strategist for hire: he can fix any problem, clean up any dirty candidate, and basically get any person elected. His romantic political view, that the right people in office can achieve great things, gets tested during two fierce campaigns: one involving Kentucky Governor Larry Becker (Eric McCormack, Free Enterprise), and the other for a California Senator (David Harbour, Quantum of Solace). In both cases, their opponents are characterized as undeserving Republican goon-like slugs that under normal circumstances couldn't get elected out of a brown paper bag. But when sexual scandals hit Turner's camps, he shifts things into overdrive, creating a series of smear campaigns that ultimately spell election night victories for his clients. Nestled in between these plots is another involving an unknown medical clinic doctor (Carrie-Anne Moss, The Matrix series) and her desire to become California's newest Governor; she chips away at Turner's marble-slabbed negativity until he agrees to sign on. He worries that she will be ruined by the political machine if she steps foot into the ring, but Penelope is undeterred. The result is a predestined and empty-feeling victory in Act 3 that felt all too easy compared to Turner's other clients.
The problem here is that nothing feels real, and what appears to be mocking leaves us with little to laugh at, representative more of television melodrama than worthy film candidate. Even the digital film itself looks like television, as if Director/Co-Writer Bill Guttentag (You Don't Have to Die) built this in a couple of weekends using the off-time schedules of its actors. The only real enjoyment I received was watching the banter between Lowe and fellow West Wing alum Richard Schiff as Turner's mud diver. Their scenes are polished to near perfection, as if the screen lit up each time they appeared. I would love to see these two featured in a political dramedy, matched up with Turner's girlfriend the television anchor Peaches (Julie Bowen, Happy Gilmore). Lowe's scenes with her are unexpectedly funny, especially during one of their sexual escapades. Other than that, many of the performances are flat, with Guttentag's and Co-Writer Chris Lehane's script limping along with too many 'I could have done this better' moments. Someone must high up have liked this film, as it was shown at the 2012 Democratic Nominating Caucus - perhaps it was the political consultant Lehane getting his foot in the door - so in that context I can imagine why it might have reached viewers. In a dark theater far away from the election season, moviegoers might find themselves falling asleep at points.
Knife Fight neither accurately displays the rigors of a real campaign, nor features any performance you need to see. My suggestion is to save your money and wait for a Lowe/Schiff campaign down the road. It's rated R for nudity and language and has a runtime of 99 minutes.
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