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Knife Fight

2012 | 98 min | Not rated | 1.85:1

Knife Fight


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Theatrical release date

 25 January, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Knife Fight Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, January 24, 2013

“Knife Fight” often doesn’t know what type of film it wants to be. Attempting to braid together political sincerity, political satire, and a human element of guilt, the feature advances unevenly, stuck trying to make sense of its erratic tone. While an ambitious effort to expose the concentrated fraud of the campaigning process and all its collateral damage, “Knife Fight” is a decent editor and a rewrite away from being a passable statement of disgust. In its current form, the movie is a mixed bag, offering a few winning performances and moments of revelation, while the rest scatters aimlessly, in search of structure director Bill Guttentag doesn’t provide.

A campaign manager nicknamed “The Master of Disaster,” Paul (Rob Lowe) has seen his fair share of scandal and outrageous behavior, tasked with solving delicate problems and securing victories, by hook or by crook. Working multiple campaigns, Paul deals with Kentucky Governor candidate Larry (Eric McCormack), whose indiscretion with an aide (Amanda Crew) has left him in a storm of controversy, with wife Sophia (Saffron Burrows) unsure if she’ll stand by her man once Paul destroys the character of the accuser. There’s also California senatorial candidate Stephen (David Harbour), whose predilection for prostitutes is exposed by a masseuse (Brooke Newton) seeking a cash settlement. Requesting Paul’s time is Penelope (Carrie-Anne Moss), a free clinic doctor looking to become the Governor of California, only she needs a manager capable of raising money and shaping her persona into a political force for good. While supervising mishaps and ego, Paul relies on assistant Kerstin (Jamie Chung), researcher Dimitris (Richard Schiff), and his television reporter lover Peaches (Julie Bowen) to connect the dots and refocus attention, though this particular wave of corruption begins to wear on the hitman’s soul, causing him to reevaluate his life’s work.

Without the benefit of a large budget to fully inspect the wreckage of a campaign season, “Knife Fight” dreams up three degrees of ambition to follow, keeping the action to offices and homes, focusing on the various characters Paul has to juggle during his few months of labor. It’s small-scale but successfully intimate work from Guttentag (who co-wrote the script with Chris Lehane), establishing the personalities with surprising ease, using bits of cliché to erect a trio of politicians who appear to want something decent for America, but can’t seem to get out of their own way. The men are particularly weak around feminine attention, risking their future on easy sex, forcing Paul to take the scraps of honor they have left and shape it into a sense of distinction, even if it requires underhanded dealings to build a bridge over a flood of disgrace. We’ve seen these characters before, in many movies and television shows, yet “Knife Fight” does aspire to deconstruct campaign strategies, offering the audience a look at the manipulation of truth and the violation of privacy, with no unsavory incident too small to be used to crush an opponent.

Although it commences as a freewheeling look at the hyper-connected world of politics, “Knife Fight” isn’t out to cause an acid burn. In fact, it eventually grows a conscience, finding Paul remorseful about his actions when a critical figure in Larry’s case attempts suicide, flattening a man who consistently treats dishonor with a smirk and wink. The aspiration to introduce a cold slap of reality to the festivities is admirable, but the subplot is wedged between snappy orchestrations of ruin, supported with finger-snap dialogue and a chirpy ensemble who’ve come to play mild caricatures, not sobering figures of reality. Guttentag isn’t sure what level of dramatic intensity “Knife Fight” should carry, rendering the picture mechanical as it relies on a screenwriting template to assist Paul through his arc, doing away with a natural progression of concern. Guttentag also assumes a few supporting characters are worth superfluous screen time, tracking Kerstin’s dilemma as she’s forced to choose between continuing on with Paul or build a future in medical school. I doubt few will care about the quandary.

“Knife Fight” ends quite abruptly, suggesting some rigorous, merciless editing was needed to get the feature into shape, with limited concern paid to manufacturing an organic conclusion with questionable morality remaining in the air. Instead, it’s a ridiculous happy ending tacked on to a troubled film, hoping to leave audiences with a euphoric sense of fair play and, gulp, hope after the previous 90 minutes essentially pronounces such ambitions to be pure fantasy.

Starring: Rob Lowe, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jennifer Morrison, Jamie Chung, Julie Bowen, Saffron Burrows
Director: Bill Guttentag

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