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Knife Fight (A Movie Review)

Knife Fight

Knife Fight

Knife Fight

After the pomp and circumstances, the soaring highs and disheartening lows of the recently ended extended campaign season, Knife Fight is a very timely film indeed.  Knife Fight has nothing to do with literal stabbing and violence, the title is a reference to the old cliché about bringing a gun to a knife fight.

No, the particular blood sport that this movie has its gaze set upon is politics.

Policy wonks are the new action heroes – look at the popularity of everything from The West Wing to Argo to Game Change to Lincoln to The Ides of March to Zero Dark Thirty.  Fox “News” Channel and MSNBC have rabid followers, making stars of talking heads like Bill O’Reilly, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck.  Most people even know who Nate Fisher is – despite the fact that his job as king of the poll analysts should by all rights be a guarantee of a lifetime of nerdy obscurity.  And it would be, in any other political climate.

Hell, Knife Fight star Rob Lowe’s three most recent extended TV roles (The West Wing, Brothers & Sisters and Parks & Recreation) either directly or tangentially took on the political spectrum.  In fact, there could be a very direct straight line drawn from his character here and the one he played on The West Wing.  (And West Wing fans will be doubly excited to find Lowe reunited with co-star Richard Schiff from the same series.)

Is Knife Fight as good as The West Wing?  No, but it also has much more modest ambitions and takes itself much less seriously.  In fact, while it swims in some very murky and serious waters, Knife Fight tends to skew towards the comic potential of the story.

In Knife Fight, Lowe plays a political spin doctor named Paul Turner – the man behind the scenes who pulls the strings in getting candidates elected.  Years in the game have made him a jaded workaholic.  He will pull any dirty tricks, misrepresent things and grease wheels to make sure that his candidates get elected.

And those candidates are of questionable morality – even to this hardened vet.  In Knife Fight, Turner is juggling two candidates, a womanizing Southern governor (Eric McCormack) and a solid family man (David Harbour) running for the California house who may or may not have made an inappropriate advance to a gold-digging masseuse.  He is also considering taking on a saintly clinic doctor (Carrie-Anne Moss), though he does not believe that the principled doc would be ready for the down-and-dirty world of politics.

While periodically Knife Fight can be a little broad – mostly in the scenes revolving around Eric McCormack’s sleazy southern governor – it does have a fascinating inside perspective of the politics game.  This is probably because the film was co-written by one of those insiders, Chris Lehane was a consultant to the Clinton White House.  Yet, this is a bit more of a cartoonish political world, it doesn’t have the insight of a movie like Primary Colors, which took a smart and incisive fictional look at Lehane’s old day job.

However, as a more lighthearted look at a very black-hearted business, Knife Fight is a pretty amusing diversion.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2013 All rights reserved. Posted: January 19, 2013.

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