Political candidates are often represented as doing whatever it takes to maintain a positive image in the public eye, and are determined enough to lie or falsify their image in order to win. That’s certainly the case with the candidates in the new political drama ‘Knife Fight,’ which opens in select New York theaters on Friday. While the numerous candidates in the film have clichéd secrets to protect and hurdles to overcome in order to be elected into office, the most humanizing and heartfelt performance is given by the strategist working hard to protect their image. After working hard to improve his clients’ images, he’s the main character who realizes the harrowing effects a campaign can have on everyone involved with the process.
‘Knife Fight’ follows Paul Turner (played Rob Lowe), a savvy strategist sharply maneuvering politicians out of scandal and into public office. Paul often overlooks when political candidates are personally flawed, if it means they can make a positive difference in millions of lives. With the help of a bright young assistant, Kerstin (Jamie Chung), who’s questioning whether she’s disappointing her family by not pursuing her parents’ dreams of her attending medical school, and a seedy operative, Dimitris (Richard Schiff), Paul spins every news cycle to benefit his clients.
Also helping Paul’s clients is shrewd reporter, Peaches, (Julie Bowen), who begins a personal relationship with strategist, as she reports stories to help the governmental hopefuls. Paul’s clients include Larry, a philandering Kentucky governor (Eric McCormick); Stephen, a blackmailed California senator (David Harbour) and an idealistic doctor turned gubernatorial candidate, Penelope (Carrie-Anne Moss). But when the ugly side of Paul’s work begins to haunt him, he learns that even in the bloodiest of battles, sometimes he has to fight clean.
The script for ‘Knife Fight,’ which was co-written by its director, Bill Guttentag, and Chris Lehane, took a well-meaning approach to humanizing the determined strategist as he cunningly tried to show his clients in the best possible light to voters. However, while Paul was characterized as truly wanting to improve the areas where his clients were running for office, the film, which runs for a mere 99 minutes, doesn’t provide enough time to truly and emotionally develop the strategist or his clients. Guttentag and Lehane tried to showcase the numerous tribulations Paul was forced to overcome throughout his varied campaigns. However, the set-up and resolution of the problems faced by the three candidates were extremely rushed, and didn’t allow the actors the time to relate to their characters.
As a result, Paul’s clients are unfortunately heavily clichéd throughout the course of the political drama. His candidates, including the current Kentucky governor who relies on mistresses to fill the void of his impersonal reelection campaign; the military veteran senator who rebels against his wholesome family image and engages in sexual misconduct; and the doctor who’s determined to run for governor, so that she can change the impoverished conditions of her clinic, are all faced with numerous problems. However, they aren’t given the time to realistically find solutions and overcome them.
But, as the idealistic and strong-minded Paul, Lowe gives the most heartfelt, relatable portrayal in ‘Knife Fight.’ In the beginning of the drama, the actor represents the strategist as being single-minded in his goal to win every campaign that he works on, no matter who he hurts or has to manipulate in the process. However, when the shocking news of Larry’s affair come to light, and Paul sees the devastating effect his tactics trying to eradicate the governor’s guilt have on his young mistress, the strategist begins to question whether doing whatever it takes to win is the best idea. Lowe presents Paul as becoming more sensitive to the needs of the voters and the targets of his campaigns, and realizes that the constant, manipulative work he does for his clients isn’t always the best option.
Despite Guttentag and Lehane’s best efforts to create a relatable, humbling political drama that emotionally showcases the difficulties strategists and candidates often face with ‘Knife Fight,’ the film unfortunately included too many clichéd characters who failed to bring refreshing outlook to the hardships of campaigning. The movie emphasized too heavily on the numerous clichés often seen in politics, including a cheating official and a strong minded, but little-known, candidate who won’t listen to reason that she most likely wouldn’t win office, and not enough time on how the characters would fix their story-comings. However, Lowe was well-cast in the lead role of the strong-willed strategist, who truly represents the idea that anyone can change the lives of those around them after seeing the error of their ways.