The Christian film "War Room" pulled off an incredible box office feat this past weekend, becoming the weekend's strongest new release with $11 million despite playing on just over a thousand screens in the whole country. By comparison, the pathetic runner-up "No Escape" made just over $10 million with a two-day head start and nearly triple the screens. Since starting this column in 2008, there has never been cause for me to review a movie playing on so few screens. There is a good chance that this movie is not yet playing in your area. However, given the film's bountiful box office performance, there is surely going to be a call to expand, so it may soon be coming to a theater near you.
The film follows the Jordan family; mom Elizabeth (Priscilla C. Shirer), dad Tony (T.C. Stallings) and daughter Danielle (Alena Pitts). Though there's a semblance of desire to be a loving family unit, tension over everything from money to fidelity is threatening to tear them apart. When they're not fighting with each other, Elizabeth and Tony busy themselves with work. Real estate agent Elizabeth wants to sell the home of Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie), a devout Christian who takes Elizabeth under her wing and encourages her to strengthen her relationship with the Lord. She introduces Elizabeth to her "war room," a minimalist nook where she goes to pray when she feels like fighting. Perhaps investing in a war room of her own is just what Elizabeth needs to save her marriage.
Miss Clara basically tells Elizabeth that creating a war room will help her accept things about her husband that she cannot change. She even goes so far as to tell her that there are things about him that she should not even try to change. And it's here where I have a problem with the movie's message. First of all, because the conversation takes place between two women, it comes off as a call for women to kowtow to their men's behavior. I'd like to think that it was not intended this way and could have gone the same way regardless of the gender of the principals. Second, I know the concept of "trying to change someone" sounds manipulative and meddlesome, but there's a healthiness to couples trying to bring out the best in each other, with the utmost in mutual respect of course. Also, the movie submits prayer as a substitute for marital communication. I have no problem with prayer as a supplement to communication, but it is not a replacement for completely necessary problem solving.
Message aside, the movie makes an admirable effort, but falls short in several key areas. The acting is stiff when it's not overblown. The plot is predictable and the third act goes on forever, including a needless detour for an elaborate double dutch tournament. And most of the humor is downright painful. There's a running gag about Elizabeth's feet smelling foul and badly needing a wash, which I know ties into the Biblical foot washing of John 13:1-17, but is still shudder-inducing. On the other hand, there are certain scenes that I think were supposed to be taken seriously that get unintentional laughs, the foremost being Elizabeth loudly and angrily renouncing Satan outside of the sanctuary of her war room.
"War Room" has an alarming number of bad ideas, but it has some good ideas too. The emphasis on honesty, devotion, and prayer are all laudable, even if I don't entirely agree with the movie's function for prayer. This is a movie that encourages its audience to do better as Christians, and does so by making them feel better about Christian values. It's not a great movie by any stretch, but I can at least appreciate that it's trying to do some good.
Two Stars out of Five.
"War Room" is rated PG for thematic elements throughout. Its running time is 120 minutes.
Robert Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. He has been a published movie reviewer since 2006. Feedback is welcome at email@example.com.