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Knife Fight (2013)
There are several clever moments of wonderfully insightful dialogue found throughout this 100-minute screening. Stanford University professor Guttentag's work in documentaries has garnered him five Academy Award nominations and two Oscar wins, and his co-writer on this project, Chris Lehane, reportedly earned the title "Master of the Political Dark Arts" after serving as spin doctor for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign and White House administration. Lehane and Guttentag also co-wrote the 2012 behind-the-scenes book The Masters of Disaster: The Ten Commandments of Damage Control. They know the landscape of contemporary American politics. You see it in this film. Sitting through Knife Fight, I couldn't help wishing the comparably over-hyped and pedantic The Ides of March (2011) had been this woefully overlooked, often fascinating feature.
Lowe is incredible here, effortlessly carrying this picture while nailing his performance as charismatic yet oily Turner, skilfully manipulating public opinion by any means necessary to save his high profile clients from themselves. Top marks also go to McCormick's wryly underplayed effort as philandering Governor Becker, Jamie Chung as Turner's able and ambitious young intern Kerstin Rhee, and Richard Schiff's part playing Turner's muck-dredging go-to connection Dimitris Vargas. Surprisingly, many of the remaining supporting roles feel less memorable. Carrie-Anne Moss plays Bay Area Mission Clinic doctor Penelope Nelson, eager for Turner's help in winning her own political bid, but her character and that story line seem so entirely peripheral and unnecessary to this movie the way it plays out. I might have been happier if Moss had played a slightly modified take on blackmailed war vet Senator Green instead of the Dr. Nelson role, for instance.
However, the most glaring flaw with Knife Fight is that Guttentag and Lehane's screenplay has a tendency to grind to an unforgivable snail's pace whenever the movie feels the need to indulge its long-winded Liberal musings about American politics and those involved. We know this flick is a satire. We get the point that greed is a humourous duality within human nature that can create and destroy with equal and conflicting force. The characters have just illustrated that. We laughed, they cried, it was better than Cats. Why then is it necessary for Turner to explain to Rhee what we've just seen? More than once! She's not stupid. Neither are we. Much. So, doing so becomes redundant, preachy, and boring.
Speaking of boring, the official website at knifefightmovie.com is possibly the poorest aspect of this contemporary feature. No synopsis. No cast and crew blurbs. Just a bland, basic page with links to YouTube, Facebook and twitter, and a lame scrolling gallery of random photos, all dominated by the film's politically-themed logo. Ooh, a logo! One that's not even used on the hokey poster. Lame. I guess it's a given that fans know by osmosis more source info can be found online at either the production company Divisadero Pictures or distributor IFC Films' sites. Too bad, Knife Fight and its cast deserved a better marketing effort than this trite flip of the bird to a potential ticket-buying audience...
Definitely not an hilariously rollicking satire for anyone outside the cutthroat arena of politics, Knife Fight is still an insightfully satisfying piece of entertainment over-all and a great new big screen high for Lowe, McCormick, Chung and crew well worth checking out as a rental. Reviewed 03/13, © Stephen Bourne.
Knife Fight is rated 14A by the
Ontario Film Review Board for limited use of slurs, coarse language,
partial or full nudity in a brief sexual situation, illustrated
or verbal references to drugs, alcohol or tobacco, embracing
and kissing, tobacco use, and restrained portrayals of non-graphic
violence, and is Not Rated by la Régie du Cinéma
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