Directed by: Alex Kendrick
Premise: An American family nearly comes apart due to the husband’s work schedule and bad attitude. Under the guidance of a wise older woman, the wife looks to prayer for help.
What Works: The one notable thing to say about War Room is that this is a mainstream movie with a primarily black cast. That is quite rare for a movie distributed by a major Hollywood studio, in this case Sony’s TriStar Pictures. There are many faults to this movie but the actors do the best they can with the material, most notably Priscilla C. Shirer as the long suffering wife, Alena Pitts as her daughter, and Karen Abercrombie as the grandmotherly sage. Shirer in particular is very good and does what she can with the terrible material. War Room is a movie made for a specific audience. The film was directed by Alex Kendrick who also co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Stephen; the Kendricks have been associated with other faith-based dramas such as Fireproof and Courageous and the audience who enjoyed those films and titles like them are probably going to get something out of War Room as well.
What Doesn’t: Over the last two years faith based movies have made significant inroads into mainstream theaters. Unfortunately, for every thoughtful movie like Calvary there has been two or three titles like God’s Not Dead. But War Room goes beyond the badness usually associated with these other after-school-special-like movies. Much of the picture’s failure is in its filmmaking. The cinematography is terrible, so much so that War Room doesn’t look much like a feature film; instead it frequently looks like an instructional video that would be shown in a classroom or at a church retreat. The sound of War Room is especially bad. The mixing is awful, with the dialogue drowned out by the distractingly heavy handed music score and the gospel songs blast the audience’s eardrums in a very unpleasant way. As a piece of storytelling War Room is a disaster. The film runs out of narrative momentum halfway through and the picture feels artificially prolonged with scene after scene that aren’t related to each other. War Room has about as many endings as Return of the King and none of them are of any consequence. Like many other faith-based movies, War Room is a piece of propaganda. That itself is not necessarily bad. Stories ought to have a point of view about their subject matter but in narrative storytelling the theme should emerge organically; that’s what’s called subtext. War Room does not even possess the pretension of subtext and the characters spell out the meaning of each scene. This is most obvious in the very end of the picture, which concludes with a montage of images that are entirely unrelated to anything else in the movie and are matched with a voiceover calling for a religious revival. The characters of War Room don’t have much to them and they are frequently inauthentic. Writing for characters of the opposite sex can be challenging but the execrable dialogue of War Room often sounds like it was written by men who have never even met a woman. The old sage, played by Karen Abercrombie is quite literally the cliché of the magical black lady and she behaves like a character from a Tyler Perry movie. But even with all this, the picture is still worse. War Room is as rotten to the core as dreck like Entourage. While it does not have the vulgarity of a movie like that, it is equally stupid. War Room has a despicable message for its female audience: if your husband is a horrible person who verbally abuses you, alienates your extended family, neglects your children, and steals from his employer then you should ignore his faults and wait for him to come around. War Room is a movie instructing its female audience to be subservient and it delivers that message with all the nuance of a carnival barker.
Bottom Line: The faith-based audience is generally underserved by Hollywood but that does not mean they should accept such trite, thoughtless, and sentimental garbage as War Room. This movie is intended to appeal to a religious audience and that’s exactly who should reject it.
Episode: #559 (September 15, 2015)