From the new movie Knife Fight, starring Rob Lowe as Paul Turner, a brilliant and morally ambivalent political strategist, and Carrie-Anne Moss as Penelope, a kind and naive physician who decides to run for governor of California. This scene takes place during the first meeting between the two, when Penelope has first told Paul about her intentions:
Paul Let me just walk you through this. If you are ballsy enough or crazy enough to do this, I can promise you an unending barrage of innuendo, vitriol, and lies. Everything will be on the public record, from the dope that you smoked in eleventh grade, to the blow you did with your girlfriends during your college lesbian experimentation period. There is not one moment of your past that will not be scrutinized in excruciating detail.
Paul Not yet. After that all comes out – and more – the facts will be twisted, stomped, and exaggerated to the point that you will no longer recognize them. And if that doesn’t do it, new facts will be made up so they can destroy you.
Paul Not yet. And then they’ll say – and I’ll say it right now – “what the hell qualifications do you have to be governor?”
Penelope In my job, I work with every sort of person, a giant array of problems. I run a team that daily produces real tangible results. I see our problems up close. And I think that I can bring people together to accomplish things. Good things.
Paul Good things?
Paul Excuse me, this isn’t a high school service club. Okay, getting elected isn’t the Harvard-Yale debate society where the best argument carries the day. These are steel cage death matches. Even if you win – which, with all due respect, would be laughable – they will hobble you. They will shatter you. The process itself will change you in ways that you cannot even possibly imagine. Now, is that what you want? Is that what you want for you, for your family? Do you have a family?
Penelope I’m a single mom. I have a six-year-old son.
Paul What about the kid’s dad?
Paul Not if you’re going to do this. Nothing will be irrelevant. Despite this being the bluest state in the country, it still knocked down gay marriage and the legalization of pot. Over half of the people in the state self-identify as born-agains, or regular church-goers – not exactly the profile of someone who’s gonna be voting for you. This is a blood sport. I have worked for men who were shot at in Vietnam, and the campaign literally broke them down to tears. A man I loved, who America loved, with a Navy Cross and two Purple Hearts, sat crying on my living room couch because of what the press said about him and his family. You’re too good a person for this… Look…to win in politics, you have got to be the person who is willing to bring a gun to a knife fight.
Penelope Is this your usual pep talk?
Penelope Well that’s good, I guess.
Paul No, this one’s for friends and family. Usually it’s worse.
I enjoyed the snappy dialogue and character-driven political drama of this movie. Though it has some trouble finding both its footing and where exactly it’s headed from beginning to end, I was able to watch it as kind of a guilty pleasure – porn for political junkies. Written by director Bill Guttentag and real-world professional political operative Chris Lehane (adviser to Clinton, press secretary to Gore), it achieves something of a plausible believability. The movie strikes exactly the right tone, a balance between West Wing righteous infallible feel-goodery and the sleazier cynical deeply-flawed-but-human exposé the majority of political dramas tend to adopt (see, for example, House of Cards, which by the way is excellent). Of the two, it leans slightly more toward West Wing, particularly in the second half – though with none of the gravitas of WW. A lot of it seems like it could be lifted straight out of a slightly more down-to-earth West Wing universe, and not just because it stars Rob Lowe and prominently features Richard Schiff, playing roles that could be the logical extrapolation of their West Wing characters say ten years later, and who have not lost their wonderful chemistry and staccato back-and-forth dynamic.
If you liked this excerpt you’d like the rest of the movie. You can see the trailer on its homepage, and read an interview with the writer, director, and star of the movie at fellow blogger Perri Nemiroff’s site here.