Having followed the film career of Alex and Stephen Kendrick through their previous 4 films (Flywheel, Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous), the pastor brothers whose influence has been the greatest stimulator of the faith-based movie market, I knew War Room would be good. I was really surprised, though, how they still keep improving in their filmmaking. I really didn’t think they could expand their style as well as they have. It is interesting to me how their movies always say the same message about the centrality of family and God in a person’s life, but because of their inventive stories and focus on specific themes each time, they all feel very different. They also have flexible enough film technique that they can make each movie feel individual and unforgettable. War Room’s subject matter is basically like Fireproof in that it is about one family’s struggling marriage, the cause of which is mainly the husband, but because War Room has so much to say in its different context, and such a different style, it doesn’t feel like it’s covering the same ground. In War Room, I feel like the Kendricks have captured more realism in human interactions and more of a sense of “real time” in the pace. Message movies usually feel like they go at a slower pace than real life because they put the focal points at scenes of emotional release, such as crying, embracing, or bowing in submission to God. There’s nothing ineffective about emotional manipulation, either; it’s just neat to see that the Kendricks are able to take on a more realistic style here. War Room, on an artistic level, does not manipulate the pace very much at all and is more plot-driven than emotion-driven, with the exception of two scenes (the wife’s outspoken rejection of the Devil and her husband’s open confession to her—those are NOT spoilers; everyone knows that the movie’ll turn out that way, but the journey is so captivating).
The movie is really emotionally powerful, and besides their filmmaking technique, I think it is also because of their ability to create characters who feel so much like us. The fact that the Kendricks have years of pastoral experience means they can create fictional characters with a greater depth than is often seen in faith-based movies. This is an essential element in War Room because the whole movie is about breaking the spiritual barriers within one family’s marriage, and because they feel so real, their faith journey also feels real. War Room has a different kind of journey than Fireproof. After Kirk Cameron’s character becomes a Christian in Fireproof, the marital issues seem like they’ll be solved, except for when he later sees the paper with his wife’s request for a divorce. In War Room, there’s a different kind of faith journey, one which is far more common than having a conversion experience. Here it is a middle-class African American family (husband, wife, 9-or-10-year-old daughter, both parents working good-paying jobs) which is already Christian to a degree, and attends church sometimes, but is growing dysfunctional because of too much emphasis on separate careers. It is high time for Christians to see a movie such as this, and take note of how overcommitting oneself ruins relationships. I see that as a big problem among Christians I know: too much involvement in activities and not enough personal and family time. It truly is the basis of a lot of ruined relationships, and it’s great that War Room exposes the problem. It also is neat to me that the family is portrayed as a Christian family, which attends church sometimes but has lost its purpose and focus because of material pursuits. If someone saw Fireproof and was less influenced because of how it manipulated the story through a conversion scene, War Room will hopefully bless those people—those who already consider themselves “people of faith” but still can’t break relational barriers. If there’s one verse that characterizes this movie, it’s Proverbs 16:8: “Better is a little with righteousness than great income with injustice.”
An older black woman with a lot of spunk and a direct form of communication starts to mentor the main character (the African American woman whose husband is becoming more hostile to her) and teaches her the importance of prayer. I like it that when prayer does help her marital situation, the movie never implies that prayer will fix everything. It has a very balanced approach to prayer, which includes the recognition that it won’t necessarily change another person, but will give the one who sincerely prays an emotional freedom from that level of burden. I really am impressed with how well this movie teaches people to refocus their hearts on God, without it feeling like a “lesson”. It’s a lesson in the form of a captivating story, and it’s really skillfully done. I would find it difficult to verbalize everything about the movie’s style which helps this to work so well, but I think the passion of the Kendricks just makes it all feel like it fits together. It is edited together really skillfully, and the pacing and acting are so real, and it’s a very worthwhile movie to watch. I hope it will greatly bless people and help them heal from issues like the pornography epidemic, which the Ashley Madison website leak/hacking has recently exposed as affecting all but 3 counties in the entire country (and even those 3 counties probably are not exempt). God orchestrated this movie to come out at such a time as this, so that people will be able to regain trust in each other through finding inspiration in God.
There were several more things that resonated with me about the movie: 1. I really like the music, in that it expands past the typical brooding style of other movies about broken relationships. It has energy and effective use of the violin, and it is nice that it doesn’t rely entirely on long minor chords with the strings and piano. 2. It explores the idea of restitution a little bit. Restitution means you make amends when you cause someone loss. I’ve often thought about whether restitution is imperative or something which the individual conscience should decide, leaning more towards letting the individual decide. For example, if I committed a secret sin that affected someone, but they didn’t know it affected them (similar to the stealing that goes on in this movie), and I changed and confessed my sins to God, I don’t know what I would do: move on, or revisit the past and open myself up to more negative consequences, and sometimes weaken relationships? Wisdom involves knowing when to keep one’s mouth shut, when to let matters of the past be “water under the bridge”. Proverbs 17:9 says it’s sometimes wiser just to move on instead of telling every sin of the past, if it’s not divisive to the relationship: “He who conceals a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.” I think it is unwise to make an absolute code of how and when to make restitution. In this story, part of the journey of repentance of Tony (the husband) involves making restitution. At least it was done in the context of him feeling burdened, rather than being told that God demanded it of him. 3. In one scene where Elizabeth (the wife) believes the Devil is in her midst, Alex Kendrick (director) uses an interesting horror-movie style as the camera circles around the room looking for some enemy in the dark. If you see the movie, pay attention to the music and camerawork at that section. 4. If you saw the trailer and thought, like I did, that it seemed like an in-your-face “In Jesus’ name” sermon, it’s not. I know that if I was not religious, and I saw that trailer, I would not want to see the movie, but it is not a “preachy” movie at all, but really authentic, down-to-earth, and excellently performed. It reminds me a little of how Steven Spielberg toned down his energetic and fluid camera style for his Lincoln movie, making it much more about the relationships in confined environments. I really appreciate how the Kendricks let the story dictate the filmmaking style in War Room, and that they did not make it feel like a sermon, even though it functions like a sermon. 5. The humorous touches, if you’ve seen their previous movies, are kind of fun, because they’re slightly goofy, often involve a character who’s a little embarrassed, but almost always come at authentic moments.
This movie continues to inspire me to pray and leave to God the things that only He is able to accomplish. And that a relationship with God is what we should be seeking above all else, including trusting God to fight our battles for us. I would caution those who are going through very hard times a couple things - not every difficult situation turns out perfectly fine in the end as this movie portrays, and may seem to promise. Some people pray for their marriages and a wayward spouse still leaves. Or does not stop abusing. Or any one of a number of temporal bad outcomes that may take years to resolve in this lifetime. Some situations never do resolve in this lifetime, and God is still faithful to His children. The second caution I would have is to warn people, just because you pray a lot does not mean you can will an armed robber to put down his weapon in the name of Jesus, and expect the robber to comply with you. Don't put God to the test like that. He is not a cosmic vending machine. Because I am aware of these things, I still give the movie 5 stars on account of its overall message to seek the Lord, to turn from sin, and to pray and pour out our hearts to Him.
I just took my wife and children to see this at the theater. I have copies of all the Kendrick's brothers movies at home and knew the movie would be good. I just didn't realize how good it would be! Seriously, this movie is about prayer. How good could a movie that is two hours long and totally focused on the power of prayer be? This movie alone is longer than most people have ever prayed in their entire life. I don't say that to discourage, but encourage (: If you want to change yourself or the people in your life, this movie will be a blessing. The work is done, all you have to do is watch it. I'm ordering a DVD copy now, so these brothers know how many copies to print off and to make sure I get one myself ASAP ... I just pray I'm not already to late, pun intended !!!
The Bible tells us to pray without ceasing, but that is easier said than done. I find myself praying when I am scared or when something weighs heavily on my heart. I also have prayers of gratitude for my wonderful family, but I rarely just hand it over to God and let my fear, anger, or sadness go. Although this is a movie with Christian themes, I think anyone could benefit from seeing it. I am no stranger to heartache---I am a wheelchair user and our oldest son has the same illness as I do along with being severely autistic. We have had our dark days when fear consumes us, but we have also been blessed beyond measure. Through all of this I learned that no one deserves to have bad things happen to them, but they don't deserve the good things either. Sometimes a situation can be completely out of your control and there is nothing to do but pray. Many times it doesn't change your situation, but it changes you. I truly believe that I become more focused, calmer and stronger after praying because it reminds me that I am never alone. For those who aren't sure about God, mindful meditation is still a powerful tool. I think anyone could feel lighter and happier by focusing on what is in their power to control and hand over the rest to the universe.