“Knife Fight”

Susan Granger’s review of “Knife Fight” (IFC Films)


With a contentious election year behind us, this comedic drama poses a provocative question: If a political candidate is personally flawed but stands to make a positive difference in millions of lives, would you help him attain public office?

Known as the “master of disaster,” manipulative Paul Turner (Rob Lowe) is a top political strategist.  With the help of a young assistant (Jamie Chung) and a shadowy investigator (Richard Schiff), Blackberry-addicted Turner wheels-and-deals with the news media, particularly an ambitious San Francisco TV reporter named Peaches O’Dell (Julie Bowen). Turner’s clients include Larry Becker (Eric McCormick), a philandering Kentucky governor who had an affair with an intern; Stephen Greene, (David Harbour) a California senator being blackmailed by a sexy masseuse who is represented by a high-profile attorney (Alan Dershowitz); and Penelope Nelson (Carrie-Anne Moss), an idealistic San
Francisco clinic doctor-turned-gubernatorial candidate.

“To win in politics, you have to be the sort of person who would bring a gun to a knife fight,” Turner maintains, repeatedly asking himself: “What would Machiavelli do?”  Or, as he puts it, “WWMD?”

If you were a fan of Aaron Sorkin’s “West Wing,” you’ll relate to the scandal-riddled screenplay by veteran Democratic political consultant Chris Lehane, who served as a White House advisor to President Bill Clinton and press secretary for Al Gore during the 2000 presidential campaign.  Lehane
collaborates with co-writer/director Bill Guttentag, two-time Oscar-winner for
documentary short subjects (“Twin Towers,” “You Don’t Have to Die”) and creator of the mockumentary “Live.” Off-screen, they co-authored a book called “The Ten Commandments of Damage Control,” acknowledging that huge strengths beget huge weaknesses.

The satirical theme is reminiscent of “Ides of March” and “Wag the Dog,” while the astute casting reunites bantering “West Wing” co-stars Rob Lowe and Richard Schiff. Lowe obviously has a penchant for politics, having also played a legislator in TV’s “Brothers and Sisters.”

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Knife Fight” is a cynical, savvy 7 – a small film with a big message about the ends justifying the means.