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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 12.04.12] comedy drama



"You don't bring a knife to a gunfight." Wiser words have not been spoken, especially when you're talking about politics where the mud slinging and backstabbing that goes on behind the scenes is every bit as ugly, if not worse, than anything the public sees. This is the motto that Paul Turner lives by and it's helped him out or all together kept him out, of tough situations.

Paul is at the centre of Knife Fight, a political drama which focuses on politics not through the politicians but rather through the team that helps keep the politicos in power: the spin doctors. Paul handles press for a number of bigwigs including a Texas Governor and a California Senator, both of whom find themselves in the middle of trouble; one gets caught cheating on his wife with an intern while the other has an affair with a massage therapist who then threatens to go public if he doesn't pay up.


Paul's job, with the help of his team and using all sorts of shady avenues, is to spin the indiscretions into a package the public will buy without losing faith in either candidate. What's interesting is not how he goes about it, though Knife Fight does offer up a great inside look on how far handlers will go to damage control, but rather why. Writer/director Bill Guttentag, best known for his work as a documentary filmmaker, and co-writer Chris Lehane, a long time political consultant best known for his work with the Clintons and Al Gore, deliver a story that mixes the "out for blood" mentality with an emotionally poignant core and Paul, along with his newly hired intern Kerstin, easily navigate the story which at one moment has them performing some questionable tasks while in the next they're bending over backwards to do right.

Knife Fight plays in the grey area of morality and Guttentag and Lahane's script is always oscillating between the good and bad but always with the idea that sometimes, you have to do bad to get at the ultimate good, something which is spelled out in black and white in a particularly great scene between Paul and Kerstin in which he explains why he does what he does.

In what is easily his best role in years, Rob Lowe breathes humanity into Paul, the man with an answer and strategy for every problem while Jamie Chung as Kerstin is the perfect in for the audience: a relative new comer to the business who is learning the ropes alongside the audience. The good performances aren't limited to the central cast and everyone here, from Eric McCormack as the dislikeable Texas Governor to Richard Schiff as Dimitri, Paul's go to guy for digging up dirt, deliver great performances that themselves play in the muddles waters of right and wrong.

Not only is Knife Fight hilarious, it's also a sobering look at politics from the people who really run the show, the manipulators who build personas and sell politicians to the masses. It's a story which explores the idea that sometimes, the best man or woman for the job isn't necessarily the best person and that good intentions are sometimes marred by stupid decisions. It's no Wag the Dog but Knife Fight does a fantastic job of pulling back the curtain on how the game of politics is played and it does so with in a hugely entertaining fashion.

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