Oops…wrong War Room.
As I sat in the theater watching the (predominantly faith-based) film previews before War Room started, the couples nearest to me could be heard commenting. “Well, it looks like they messed up the doctrine on that one,” one said, referring to the upcoming film, Risen. Another patron said, “Oh! That’s another one we need to see!” As the film opened to a grainy Vietnam scene (a well-intentioned but poorly executed attempt to explain the metaphor of prayer and spiritual warfare) and the title appeared, all I could think of was Peter Sellers yelling, “Gentlemen! You can’t fight in here! This is the war room!”
Parental Caveats: There is no bad language, no violence aside from an attempted mugging, nothing at which the MPAA would bat an eyelash. (The film is rated PG.) That said, I wouldn’t take children to see it. I base this decision on the message of a film rather than the number of bad words, barroom brawls, or boobs that appear, because for me the value and message of the story itself is what determines if it’s appropriate for my kids. I think the message of this movie could be extremely confusing and potentially harmful to kids. I’ll explain as the review proceeds.
This review contains spoilers.
War Room is a Typical Christian Film. This is not a compliment.
Typical Christian Films are visual sermons that blur the line between entertainment (the telling of a story visually) and telling people how to best live their lives, according to the film maker’s understanding of their beliefs about how God wants us to live. This is done the same as preachers do every week: with an outline, some illustrations, some bible, and the giving of the Plan of Salvation.
Typical Christian Films have budgets based on The Ministry Rate, which means, since you’re doing this as a ministry unto the Lord, you cut corners to be a good steward of your resources. I’ll just say that the writers/directors Alex and Stephen Kendrick were very good stewards: they stretched a paltry (by Hollywood standards) budget as far as they could, and viewers get what the Kendricks paid for.
First, the script is horrible. The writing is tedious and forced; there is little plotting or tension-building and no character development. The proselytizing is relentless and done with a hammer. The dialogue is unrealistic and clunky. Simply put, people don’t talk that way. The pursuit of humor and tension is rarely successful, and moments that are not supposed to be funny are. It tries to convey spiritual conviction, marital difficulty, pressure, and pain, but it is a poorly crafted attempt in need of serious editing.
As this is a Typical Christian Movie script, everything is black and white, however what makes many films about human relationships compelling are the grey areas, and the struggles people have to work through together in order to come to a compromise that all parties can live with, and even thrive in, when the dust settles. This usually involves hilarious or tragic misunderstandings, and one or both of the main characters making a complete fool of themselves for the sake of love. If that’s what you want to see, grab Kate & Leopold, As Good as It Gets, or An Officer and a Gentleman. You’re not getting any of that in War Room.
Few actors could have done much with this script, and only Karen Abercrombie’s portrayal of Clara, the loveable-if-abrasive and over-zealous mentor to the main character, Elizabeth, is interesting to watch at all: Abercrombie’s Clara is All In, which makes her both scary and fascinating. She pushes her way right into Elizabeth’s personal life after a very superficial initial business encounter, tell her exactly how she’s screwing it up, and swiftly takes it over. Clara belongs in a Stephen King film. Hmm…I wonder if they’re making Revival into a movie…
The main characters, Elizabeth and Tony Jordan, played by Priscilla Shirer and T. C. Stallings, have no chemistry whatsoever. It’s honestly difficult to see them as a couple based on their acting: it’s wooden and nearly android-like; there is very little passion at all. Imagine Data from Star Trek TNG playing both roles, and you’ll have a good idea of what to expect. When the scene calls for any emotional response, they yell or cry and figure that’s all that’s required to portray their part well. In fact, it would seem the main criteria for earning a role in this film was the ability to cry at the drop of a hat, which all of the principles do so well it’s creepy.
This is not Janet From Another Planet.
The directing is unimaginative and predictable. It is reminiscent of a far-too-long episode of All My children circa 1986 (and not one of the sweeps episodes, either).
The Kendricks seem to forgotten how to use the musical score to enhance a film. Instead, they bludgeon the viewer with the music: when they want you to respond, they use the score bluntly with no subtlety whatsoever. As far as the expected audience reactions go, if the use of the music is an indicator, they aren’t asking us, they’re telling us.
Which brings us back to the story itself.
The main problem with Typical Christian Films isn’t the preaching. That can and should be expected from people of serious religious convictions and faith because they want everyone to receive the peace and eternal life they believe they have, as well as avoid eternal punishment. The main problem with Typical Christian Films is the refusal to show life as it really is.
We are supposed to assume that Tony is an ass, but no one’s allowed to say ass, not even Tony. These characters would have been far more compelling had the audience been given some clue as to why Tony cheated his company or his wife. If we knew what motivated him to make those decisions , we may have had a reason to care about him. If Elizabeth would have reacted to the revelation of her husband’s possible infidelity with any passion at all, it would have been easier to relate to her and care how the movie ended. Instead, Tony considers cheating on his wife, and he keeps some pharmaceutical samples, for reasons the writers feel the audience does not need to know. His wife reacts with quiet looks and questions such as, “Can we please just sit down and eat now?” Riveting.
What actually was riveting to me was this: after being mentored for an hour or two by Clara, Elizabeth seems to assume the problems in her marriage are solely her fault: she has not been praying for and submitting to her husband enough (even though she asks permission from him before doing nearly anything). This is clearly the reason he treats her like shi….er, real bad. Who knew she had so much power? Taking on that guilt and the sole responsibility for getting God to fix the situation gives her a bit of control over her life, and this is a dangerous message to send to women. Google Anna Duggar for details.
Prayer is a powerful thing. I’ve seen people deeply and permanently changed partially as a result of their own prayers as well as the prayers of others. Prayer has an important place in my own life. The thing about prayer that War Room misses is that it changes the attitude of the person praying. That change affects those with whom they interact, which changes events and circumstances.
The film takes a different view of prayer, however. In War Room, prayer is both a battle plan and a means to an end. It’s more-or-less a to-do list for God. If you pray fervently and correctly (focusing solely on God and His word in a small private place), God does what you want.
But, that’s not biblical. That’s not even logical.
In spite of itself, War Room shows us how prayer can work: Elizabeth’s prayers were fervent and addressed to God, but that is not the only reason they began to have an effect. They took her focus from herself and put them on others. Through the mental and spiritual exercise of prayer, Elizabeth learned empathy, and that, in my opinion, is why things changed. Please note, however, your mileage may vary: people make their own decisions.
Elizabeth is led to believe that even though she is the wife, she controls her husband with her bad attitude. Tony, apparently, is a puppet on a string. This is an awful message to send to both women and men. In fact, it could be worse than the message sent by extreme Christian fundamentalist gender roles: the man is the head of the home period, and the wife is to submit to him. From Clara’s teachings, those roles are lies: the real power is the woman-she just can’t let anyone know that, and the men are just marionettes under their control. (Equality in these relationships doesn’t seem to be an option.)
Another disturbing thing Elizabeth learns, under the instruction of Clara, is that husbands and wives own one another. Phrases like this pepper the film: “Men don’t like it when their women…” and, “If my man….” Call me odd, but I don’t think couples should own each other; they should partner with each other.
The plot (such as it is) has the following Tense Moments:
- Elizabeth and Clara nearly get mugged. Clara stuns the mugger by rebuking him “in the name of Jesus” and he runs off. No, really.
- Tony’s out of town fling is halted by a sudden need to hurl.
- Tony gets fired for skimming and selling pharmaceutical samples, but avoids jail, and changes his former mean boss’s tire. Sidebar: things only “nearly” happen in this movie.
- Danielle, their daughter played by the adorable Alena Pitts (who delivers a nice performance), and her dad compete in a double-dutch jump rope contest.
- Elizabeth declares to Satan that he no longer has an power over her family or her home. By yelling at him. In the yard. Twice. This adds to the unintentional hilarity and creepiness.
I’m sure this was all supposed to be very intense plotting.
This is where the action is.
By emptying her closet, posting her requests and relevant handwritten scriptures on the wall, and asking God to make her husband the man He wanted him to be, Elizabeth effects a change in Tony. Or God does. One of those. Tony has no control over himself whatsoever.
The movie lumbers on for over two hours like a summer baptist tent meeting, culminating with the double-dutch contest, an ice cream sundae and a foot rub. Clara drives home the message with fundamental fervor as a bunch of folks are seen praying and the music tells you this is The Invitation, and you need to Make a Decision for Christ.
“I have no control over myself whatsoever.”
It’s concerning to me how this film portrays the roles of men and women. Women need to appear powerless, but control everything behind the scenes and men need to appear to control everything, but are not responsible for any of their actions until the prayers of their wives (if done correctly) cause God to change them.
I’d much rather have spent my two hours watching Adam Chandler, Erica Kane, and Janet From Another Planet.