Why Christians Will Love “War Room”
Christian Movie Review
[Note: after you read about why “War Room” was such a positive experience for me in the movie theater, if you’re a fan of C.S. Lewis, please check out my new blog Stabs of Joy that explores dozens of Lewis books to answer one question: how do we find joy in the midst of extremely difficult circumstances?]
The new faith-based film “War Room” turned a movie theater into a hand-raising, Hallelujah-ing church service. I do not mean that it had Gospel music. I mean that, while watching some of the big crescendos of the film’s plot — when Biblical truths were presented the most boldly and powerfully — I turned and saw people in the theater with their hands lifted. I heard others say “Amen” or “Hallelujah.”
It was a church service — and a powerful one, at that. It genuinely connected with people as it portrayed, in glimpses, what it means to engage in spiritual warfare through prayer and to stand strong on God’s promises in the Word.
And to be honest, as a movie critic who watches dozens of movies in the theaters a year, what I experienced last night — that church service vibe — was extremely rare. It was profoundly edifying. Of course, it helped that the theater was full to the brim with Christians. That surprised me. I live in a part of California that is known for being one of the most secular areas in the country.
But there they were.
I know because I heard them all talking before the movie started, while they were walking in and sitting. They were asking each other about which churches they went to and greeting each other — total strangers of all different ethnic backgrounds and denominations, mind you — as if they were long lost relatives gathering at a family reunion. It was a wonderful little snapshot of the Bride of Christ. It reminded me how totally unique and beautiful She is.
Does that mean “War Room” was a perfect movie, as far as its film craft? Well, no, actually. It struggles with some of its writing — a common occurrence in the faith-based genre. By that I mean it commits a few of the “sins” that many other faith-based movies tend to commit: heavy-handed reliance on dialogue to inform the audience about everything that is happening and why (i.e. very little subtext), lack of subtlety in general, and aggressive, very straight-forward lunging for heart strings. Many faith-based movies have the subtlety of a punch to the face.
However, “War Room” was better than many faith-based movies, and it has quite a lot going for it in both its film craft and its ability to encourage and inspire. It will do very well in the box office, I’m predicting, and as word of mouth spreads, I can see it becoming quite the sensation among Christians everywhere.
I’ll get more into why, but first…
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance for this PG rated film…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality and Romance: No nudity or sex scenes. In one scene a woman invites a married man to come back to her apartment to “drink wine.” (But he doesn’t go.)
Violence/Gore/Scary Content: None.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: A man and a woman drink wine (or maybe champagne?) over dinner.
(Review continues below)
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Entertainment Value and Film Craft
Karen Abercrombie’s performance as Miss Clara was often hilarious and always endearing — not to mention inspiring with her quirky but lovable little pep talks. I left the theater with a deep hunger to be more intentional about intercessory prayer and spiritual warfare through prayer and the Word. And Miss Clara’s pep talks had a lot to do with that. It’s impossible not to love her, and her character is the heart and soul of “War Room.”
The other actors also did a noteworthy job. The acting was the film’s strong point in many scenes. Priscilla C. Shirer’s performance as Elizabeth Jordan, especially in her prayer closet scenes when she was praying for her husband, brought tears. T.C. Stallings was able to emanate anger and frustration by simply standing there. He was very talented with his body language, and he could just bristle with his character’s anger — very few words of dialogue would have been necessary. His transformation as a husband is also convincing.
Tenae Downing’s performance as Veronica Drake, the woman who tempts Tony Jordan, had a smoldering (yet subtle, not over-acted) plausibility that added weight to those scenes. You really felt there was a credible threat to the marriage, and this added urgency to the scenes when the wife was praying for her husband.
And Alena Pitts as Danielle Jordan gave us a very convincing, endearing tenderhearted daughter caught in the cross-fire of her parents’ problems. (And, as a side-note, I thought Jadin Harris was particularly funny in her scenes as Danielle’s best friend. Her “your crazy mom is scaring me” expressions made me laugh.)
However, as I mentioned in the introduction, “War Room” can be heavy-handed with its reliance on dialogue for exposition. It is very aggressive with its messaging — it is definitely not aiming for subtlety — and though I frankly found its bold declaration of the Gospel to be refreshing, the way it aggressively, overtly pulls at the audience’s heart strings with its plot (a story, by the way, that telegraphs its punches far in advance) can feel a little overkill at times. I do wish, in
general, that faith-based films would rely more on the power of subtext and subtlety. I suppose I subscribe to the Iceberg Theory as coined by Ernest Hemingway:
If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing…
This also applies to films. Last week I saw the movie “Phoenix,” possibly one of the best movies ever made, and it uses omission and subtext perfectly. If faith-based films did this more often, we would have more nuanced, dimensional characters and more true-to-life emotional arcs and story experiences. Such things would deepen any message of the film, not work against it.
All of that being said, the writing had some nice touches too. I loved the film’s portrayal of spiritual warfare. Christianity Today complained loudly about it, but I found the film’s portrayal of the whole closet/post-it notes thing, the declarations of Biblical promises (yes, CT, there are times when we must openly and loudly confront our spiritual enemy with the Word), and the power of intercessory prayer in general to be true to life. I’ve experience many of these things personally (even the post-it notes thing), and I know many other people who have as well; and that aggressive, organized approach to intercessory prayer and to declaring the principles of God’s Word and tearing down spiritual strongholds with it, is powerful and effective. To claim that “War Room” turns prayer into “works” by focusing on these externals, as Christianity Today claims, is missing the point. I’ve seen the internal effects of these “externals” — i.e. prayer lists, reminders, prayer journals, etc. — with my own eyes. Its effectiveness is undeniable, at least from what I’ve seen. In other words, I thought the film’s treatment of that subject was authentic. A theater packed full of Christians certainly related to it on a personal level. I have not seen an audience so engaged and into a movie since the last Avengers movie when I saw it on opening night in a theater packed with Marvel fans. “War Room” got a rousing ovation as soon as the credits rolled. They absolutely loved it.
Also, in some ways, the film imitated war movies, which was fun. (I’m a fan of the war movie genre.) Every war movie has to have “The Speech,” where the general or leader stands before his troops and delivers some powerful words of inspiration. “War Room” actually has a “The Speech” scene, featuring, again, the wonderful acting of Karen Abercrombie. I thought this was a nice touch for a film that was using the war movie genre as a template.
It certainly has flaws, but “War Room” also has plenty going for it. It also has some great songs in it. In fact, we interviewed one of the artists, John Waller, who did the song Crazy Faith for the film.
Entertainment value/film craft rating for “War Room”: [usr 6]
Worldviews, Subtext, Symbolism, Themes of Redemption, Social Commentary, the Question of “Spiritual Edification,” Etc.
To be sure, this movie will be seen by many secular movie critics as just another Christian movie made for Christians — another Christian “propaganda” film. Its grandiose ending was, though inspiring to anyone who believes in Jesus, a bit heavy handed. It reminded me of “Tomorrowland” in the way that it just suddenly left all inhibitions behind and sort of morphed into a larger-than-life inspirational video. But you can’t deny that its passion was authentic.
And as I thought more about it after the credits rolled, I sensed some desperate, admirable urgency in it. I realized that, most likely, the filmmakers felt so passionate and urgent about the message that they wanted to issue a call to the church. The more I thought about the film’s ending, the more it began to ring with the tone of a letter in my mind — an urgent plea to the church to rise up. I almost wonder if they were thinking, “Look, we know movie critics will hate this, but we don’t care. This is an opportunity to speak to millions of Christians across the country, and we have something very important to say.”
And, considering the times in which we live, I think this bare-faced, boldly straight-forward, impassioned call to Christ-like action is exactly what many Christians crave to hear in our culture. In that sense this movie is very timely. It channels the Christian community’s very strong desire to see Christian culture and American culture rediscover Christ and make the priceless treasure of a personal relationship with God the highest priority.
It may not present this desire or message perfectly, but I believe audiences across the nation will reward it for its boldness and its passionate, authentic call (especially its call to intercessory prayer) by flocking to the theaters in droves.
For Christian readers who wonder about a film’s “spiritual edification” factor, here is my personal rating for “War Room.”: [usr 8]
NOTE: I realize this can be highly subjective. Christians draw the line for this at different places. I use a combination of the Parental Guidance and the Worldview sections for this rating, though it is subjective and informed by my own preferences. I’m sure many will find my rating too high while others will find it too low. As you read my reviews and get to know where I tend to fall in this area compared to your preferences, hopefully these ratings will become a useful guide for you.
Note about my rating system for the movie’s film craft and entertainment value:
1 star = one of the worst movies ever made (the stuff of bad movie legends), and it usually (not always) has below 10% on Rotten Tomatoes
2-3 stars = a mostly bad movie that has a handful of nice moments; it usually falls between 10-30% on Rotten Tomatoes
4-6 stars = a decent movie with some flaws, overall. Four stars mean its flaws outweigh the good. Five stars mean equal good, equal bad. Six stars mean it’s a fairly good movie, with some great moments even, that outweigh a few flaws. A 4-6 star rating usually means it falls between 30-59% on Rotten Tomatoes (but not always).
7-9 stars = a rare rating reserved only for the best movies of that year; and a film must have a Fresh Tomato rating (60% or higher) on Rotten Tomatoes to be given 7 stars or higher, with a few exceptions (if I strongly disagree with the critics).
10 stars = one of the best films of all time, right up there with the all-time greats (i.e. Casablanca, The African Queen, Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars Episode IV, Indiana Jones, etc.).
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