September 11, 2015
War Room (Rated B)
Cast: T.C. Stallings, Priscilla Shirer, Karen Abercrombie
Genre: Christian Drama
Dwight’s Rating: 2 AND A HALF STARS
Everybody’s trying to figure out how this happened.
Just how did the faith-based drama, “War Room”, open in U.S. theaters two weeks ago in a strong number two position (apparently nearly doubling forecasts), and then in its second week manage to muscle its way into the number one spot?
On a budget of only $3 million, the film has already grossed $29.8 million in the U.S. It’s the latest cinematic production from the Kendrick Brothers — written by Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick, directed by Alex and produced by Stephen. They’ve been producing Christian dramas for the past few years with moderate but growing success. “War Room”, blessed with their biggest budget to date, just happens to be the first one to gain widespread media and public awareness.
Its premise is pretty straightforward. It follows the Jordan family, which seems to have everything going for it, with parents Tony and Elizabeth having great jobs, a beautiful dream home, and a well-behaved daughter. But, of course, appearances can be deceiving. Husband Tony (T.C. Stallings) “flirts with temptation” — that’s how the film’s press materials describe being on the precipice of an extramarital affair. Meanwhile, wife Elizabeth (Priscilla Shirer) becomes increasingly bitter, as their marriage slowly crumbles.
But their lives take an unexpected turn when Elizabeth, a real-estate agent, meets her newest client, Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie), who encourages the couple to find happiness through prayer. That sounds more like the plot of an episode of the late ‘90s/early 2000s TV show, “Touched By An Angel”, than the premise of a contemporary movie. And at times one gets the impression “War Room” was not exactly intended for mass movie audiences.
Indeed, part of the box office success can at least be explained by its timing, coming in at the end of the summer — a particularly slow period, with typically dull releases. Last weekend was also the busy Labor Day Holiday weekend in the States, and there’s the usual preoccupation with “back-to-school”. Additionally, even with its perch on top of the U.S. box office, its haul was notably small, even for a Labour Day weekend.
But that kind of analysis discounts what may be the actual appeal here. “War Room” is a remarkably simple and extremely relatable story, presented without fanfare, and without the distraction of well known or A-list actors. And after a long summer movie season with everything and everyone being shot at or blown up, and the world coming to an end, or civilization coming to an end, or dinosaurs eating everyone, it’s quite refreshing to watch people who are quite like people we probably know, going through some things many of us can understand.
Talking about — let alone reviewing — “War Room” sets up an interesting proposition. Do you evaluate it knowing the film’s goal is to extol the virtues of prayer and faith? Can you critically look at its creative choices and processes? Should you forgive or overlook any deficiencies because of those noble objectives?
A colleague and friend of mine upon seeing the film remarked that the producers were obviously not concerned about winning awards, but more focused on getting their message across. Some would call message movies, “preachy”. I don’t like preachy movies, with their subtle (and some not-so-subtle) ways of trying to get you to think in a particular way with their veiled messages.
But that’s the interesting thing about “War Room”; it proudly wears its agenda on its sleeves. It is right there in your face, no apologies. Sure, there are not going to be any Oscar winners here. But it is reasonably well acted, with sincere and honest performances.
The Miss Clara character is a bit heavy-handed. I doubt I or many other people would respond well to her level of presumptuousness. And Karen Abercrombie’s is the most over-acted performance of the entire production. But people like Miss Clara certainly do exist (I know a few just like her). And Abercrombie, who is actually much younger than the character, does an extremely convincing job of playing the old widow.
Reactions to the movie are interesting. Many people, even “Christians”, thumb up their noses at films like this. I myself was not exactly eager to see it. But it’s ironic when you consider just how many Christians will sit through all manner of horribly acted and questionably directed horror films, featuring everything from human sacrifice with devils and demons to witchcraft and other supernatural forces.
If that sounds like judgment, forgive me. And remember, I’m one of those that would not ordinarily be inclined to watch a faith-based drama. But it is curious and surprising that so many of us are so reluctant.
It’s also surprising that a movie about relationships today can be made without adult language, sex scenes, or violence. Take note, Hollywood!
And while “War Room” seems tailor-made for Christians, with its focus and emphasis on the power of prayer, it can more than likely be appreciated by any one of any religious background, and even those with no religious affiliation. The underlying message is the importance of doing what is right and helping others to do the same. So, in these times when so many things seem so very bleak, it is easy to see why a movie with a message of hope and happiness and about the need for faith, would be a hit today.
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “ Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.
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