[Screen It]


(2015) (Priscilla C. Shirer, T.C. Stallings) (PG)

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Drama: A real estate agent turns to God in hopes of saving her marriage.
Elizabeth Jordan (PRISCILLA C. SHIRER) would seem to have the perfect life. She's a successful real estate agent, lives in a big home with her ultra successful, pharmaceutical sales rep husband, Tony (T.C. STALLINGS), and has a cute 10-year-old daughter, Danielle (ALENA PITTS). But things are less than idyllic in the Jordan household. Despite his charming and friendly demeanor at work, Tony seemingly no longer loves Elizabeth and berates her for giving money to her sister and that woman's unemployed husband, while he barely acknowledges their daughter.

Elizabeth gets a wake-up call in the form of Miss Clara Williams (KAREN ABERCROMBIE), a widower of forty years who's hired Elizabeth to sell her house. A highly religious woman, Miss Clara senses Elizabeth could use a little more God in her life, including the use of a daily prayer room. After getting to know Elizabeth's situation, Miss Clara says it's not her job to fix Tony. Instead, it's to love, respect, forgive and pray for him, and let God do the rest. Just as Tony is about to cheat on her elsewhere with another woman, Elizabeth does just that. From that point on, and as Tony starts to see the light, they must contend with the fallout of his past indiscretions.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
When I first learned about this week's release of "War Room," I wondered if someone had decided to make a dramatic or comedic version of the 1993 documentary "The War Room" about Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential election bid. After all, "Saturday Night Live's" Bill Hader does a decent James Carville impression.

But then I heard the film included a major plot element of God's eternal battle with Satan, and that an older, highly religious woman had a closet in her home serving as the pic's titular location to wage war with old Beelzebub, I imagined some reworking of the famous "Exorcist" plot or the legion of demonic possession films that have followed in its wake. That could potentially make for good drama (and suspense and horror). But having spiritual warfare exist in the form of just talking about letting God do the fighting for you against Satan does not carry the same sort of cinematic weight, and that's part of what bedevils this offering.

The movie's villain, Tony Jordan (T.C. Stallings), is apparently affected by Satan's doings, but not in your standard supernatural horror flick style. Instead, the filmmaking duo of Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick (the siblings behind "Facing the Giants," "Fireproof" and "Courageous") have gone the straight family drama route with this, their fifth faith-based picture.

Stallings plays a highly successful pharmaceutical sales rep with a big home, a beautiful real estate agent wife (Priscilla C. Shirer) and a cute, 10-year-old daughter (Alena Pitts). While polished, charming and slick at work, he's not so nice at home where he's never around for his daughter and yells at his wife for giving her sister and that woman's unemployed husband money. As he not so subtly points out, he makes four times the income that Elizabeth does, and thus it's his money and none of it's going to that "bum."

Fortunately for the beleaguered wife, she gets a new client who's looking to sell her home, complete with its "war room" prayer closet. Karen Abercrombie's Miss Clara is nosey and pushy in a grandmotherly sort of way (teetering on the brink of being an offensive stereotype) and similarly lacks any subtly when it comes to pointing out Elizabeth's lackluster faith.

Of course, the Kendricks -- Alex directing from a script he co-penned with Stephen -- aren't known for subtly in their films that have "preaching to the choir" so embedded in them that they'll instantly drive away anyone not ready to shout "hallelujah" at the heavy-handed messages.

Worse yet, the flick has a potentially dangerous "remedy" to domestic abuse (which can be just as damaging when in psychological mode as its physical counterpart). According to Miss Clara, it's not up to Elizabeth to change or judge her husband, regardless of his behavior. Instead, she should respect, love, forgive, and pray for him, and let God do the rest. That's all fine and dandy, but there are plenty of religious wives (and children) who've eventually been beaten and even killed by abusive husbands/fathers despite all of the prayers in the world.

Despite that real world scenario, once Elizabeth starts praying here, her husband suddenly takes ill right before committing adultery, ends up fired, and suddenly does a complete one-hundred and eighty degree turn and becomes a great guy. Had the filmmakers made him resist that, or actually personified God and Satan as real characters here (albeit in the disguise of "ordinary" humans interacting with the main characters), some of this might have worked, at least to some degree.

Production values are solid, and the filmmakers continue to up the ante in terms of the pic's visual sheen. I just wish they spent as much time working on the script in terms of layering in subtly and metaphors rather than straightforward and all too obvious preaching. The former usually is successfully at reaching broader audiences (see "The Chronicles of Narnia"), while the latter only serves to appease those already in the belief camp. "War Room" might have a good message about becoming a better person, but it needs better cinematic weaponry to tell its tale. It rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed August 24, 2015 / Posted August 28, 2015

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