I’ve spent the majority of my life in the church. Growing up, I didn’t really realize that there was a different language that was spoken within the church versus outside the church. Although I had been told of the wide gap between the world and the church, it wasn’t until I set foot firmly into a world that was less than hospitable to Christians that I began to see the chasm that existed between the two. That chasm, as it seems, was fed and increased by both the church and the world.
Over the past few years, I’ve struggled to close the gap in conversations that I have had with friends who have not grown up in the church, some who don’t even believe that God exists. I found that, like in so many other areas, when there is a language barrier that exists, you have a choice between ignoring it or breaking it. I felt that since I’ve been called to love my neighbor that it made sense for me to try to break down that language barrier as much as I could.
One of my frustrations over the years has been in the arts. I grew up in the 70s and 80s when films that were being produced within the church and for the church were fairly cheesy. As the years went by, I didn’t notice any improvements in what was being offered from the church, in film or in music. While the Jesus movement took shape and form within the 70s, giving way to what would eventually be deemed contemporary Christian music, most of what was being offered in the area of film served as B-movie (or worse) efforts that fell short of any high standards with acting and storyline that was low-rate.
Fast forward to the turn of the century. In the area of music, there have been major leaps and bounds (a post in and of itself). In the area of film, enter the Kendrick Brothers, two Georgia-based brothers and pastors whose heart for film led them to begin producing films starting with 2003’s “Flywheel.” Since “Flywheel,” the brothers Kendrick have released 4 additional films, each garnering both greater earnings and greater influence. Following “Flywheel” came the football “Facing the Giants” followed by “Fireproof,” “Courageous,” and 2015’s “War Room,” the brothers’ current film.
Produced with a $3 million budget, “War Room” surprised many (except maybe hardcore fans of the Kendrick brothers) by holding the top box office spot over the Labor Day weekend with total weekend revenues of over $12 million, beating out “Straight Outta Compton” at the box office.
If you run in church circles at all, “War Room” is probably not unfamiliar to you. If you don’t run in those circles, then it’s probably just a blip on the movie radar that could easily be passed over but for its numbers during its opening few weekends.
Last week, I read an unfavorable review of the film at www.allmovie.com which disturbed me. I was tired of feeling like Christians were constantly offering low-rate art, all the while expecting to be taken seriously. But my strong opinions and thoughts were based solely on the experience of others, I hadn’t seen the film, an error that I remedied one afternoon last week when I went to see the film.
The Kendrick brothers have done what most professionals do, they’ve learned from their experience. So, each of their successive films has improved in quality. I haven’t seen “Flywheel,” but I have seen “Facing the Giants” and “Fireproof.” The overall quality of the films has improved with every new offering. It seems that they have continued to work hard to make their films as believable as possible and to make sure that the level of technicality in their films (the score, the cinematography, the production, et. Al.) gets better every time out.
It’s important to understand what “War Room” is and what “War Room” is not. The film is an inspirational piece intent upon inspiring its viewers. In my opinion, the film is not geared towards or even appropriate for those who aren’t somewhat familiar with the church and the language that is spoken within the church. “War Room” is about prayer, communication with God, something that is deeply personal and something that is not easily understood by those who haven’t been steeped in the culture of the church. Walking into this film with no understanding and background on prayer would probably be confusing for whoever attempted to do so.
The story follows Tony and Elizabeth Jordan, a pharmaceutical rep and real estate agent, respectively, who are struggling in their marriage. They are sleeping in separate rooms and arguing in front of their daughter whenever they are around each other. Their busy lives have pulled them further from each other and Tony is on the brink of completely abandoning his marriage.
While meeting a client to list her house, Elizabeth engages in a conversation with the client, an elderly woman named Clara. During their conversation, Clara begins nosing around and asking some deeply personal questions of Elizabeth. Instead of shutting down the questioning from Clara, Elizabeth decides to just go with it. She allows Clara into her life to see a glimpse of what’s going on between her and Tony. In short, her marriage is broken and it doesn’t take a marriage counselor to figure that out.
Meanwhile, Tony works, travels, and flirts like a champ. He plays with fire in risking an emotional affair with a woman he meets at the office of one of his clients, eventually having dinner with her. Elizabeth, meanwhile, regularly meets with Clara and learns of Clara’s prayer strategy, which she has developed in her favorite room in the house, her “war room,” an empty closet with prayers and Bible verses taped to the wall.
As the film progresses, we see the change within Elizabeth and Tony, chronicling the improved relationship with each other as well as their daughter. Both Tony and Elizabeth take a stronger and more active role in their daughter’s life, a more healthy role and response to each other, and the things that once drove them in their lives take a back seat when they realize the error of their ways.
The Kendricks attempt to do a lot in “War Room,” repair a marriage, mentor a person on prayer, restore a parent/child relationship, refocus professional lives, and present a biblical message, all within 120 minutes. In so doing, their focus seems somewhat disjointed. In showing that Tony is playing with fire in his flirtatious relationship with Veronica Drake, the young, attractive woman from a client’s office, there isn’t enough character development to make you care about what happens. After her dinner with Tony, she makes an appearance in the film after he’s begun to mend his ways and it feels more like an afterthought than an actual plot point, almost as if the Kendricks thought it was necessary for some kind of closure. The viewer may wonder whether the plot point of Tony’s impending unfaithfulness may have been laid out in a shorter and more concise depiction which would have been more effective.
When Tony faces a major dilemma later in the film, the viewer is left wondering how believable the situation would be as he and Elizabeth walk through it together. After facing uncertain circumstances and emerging mostly unscathed, the film ends with a fairly “feel good” moment. The marriage is restored, the parents are more involved with their daughter, and Elizabeth is charged with teaching what she’s learned about prayer to someone else of her choosing.
The last moments of the film end with a prayer/monologue by Clara which reminded me of a Rob Mathes song called “My Mother’s Prayer” (which was based on August Wilson’s play “Seven Guitars”). It’s inspiring and seemed an appropriate way to end the film, much the way it started with the focus on the older mentor. I was waiting for the audience in the theater to rise to their feet, cheer and shout “Hoo Rah!” The message of the film, in case its sounding had been missed throughout, is clearly stated as Clara calls Christians to pray in order to remedy the problems within our country.
For anyone steeped in the language of Christianity, it would be hard not to emerge from the dark theater with a newfound enthusiasm and “go-get-‘em” attitude towards prayer. It tugged on my emotional heart strings and there was more than once that I had to look around to see if anyone was looking as I nonchalantly wiped my eyes.
“War Room” is full of clichés and Christian language that would be foreign and indecipherable to anyone looking in from outside of the Christian subculture, so I wouldn’t recommend it as a film to which to invite unbelievers or seekers. While there were numerous moments of humor, I found myself laughing as one would laugh at an inside joke. No one would ever accuse the Kendrick brothers of subtlety, their message comes across clearly, which is not necessarily a bad thing. While they may have learned lessons along the way with their previous four efforts, things still fit nicely and neatly together, sometimes with extraneous developments unnecessary to the progression of the story. It does seem that the efforts of the Kendricks seem less forced and more natural this time out than in some of their previous efforts.
To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised by the film. I went in with a dubious attitude, expecting that I wouldn’t be wow-ed by the film at all. Having read some bad reviews coming from outside the church, my expectations were low. Taking this film for what it was, a two hour inspirational sermon for lukewarm churchgoers and an encouragement for those who already believe in the power of prayer, I think it achieved its purpose. The Kendrick brothers have said in interviews that their desire is that their films bring about life change in viewers, and if the viewers are Christians, I can easily see that happening with this film.
“War Room” won’t win any Academy Awards for acting, script, art direction, score, or any other categories, but it also can’t be accused of sub-par performances in these areas. While it might not be a “cup of tea” for those unfamiliar with the language that it speaks, like so many other things, I think it’s important to ask about authorial intent to discern just who the Kendrick brothers expected to reach with this film. I’d be surprised if they expected to reach those who were not already immersed in church culture.
It’s clear that the faith based genre of film is here to stay. While I don’t see it as a means for reaching the unconvinced, those who wouldn’t consider themselves to be Christians, the support of this genre by those within the church is making a clear statement to Hollywood that there are those who are clamoring for films that present positive messages with little to no offensive or suggestive material, which is not the worst message to be conveyed. Based on some of the biblical epics that have released over the past few years, the genre and support thereof has made its mark.
While I was pleasantly surprised with “War Room,” it’s not a film which I would repeatedly view. I think I get its message and to whom it was targeted, yet I continue to remain hopeful that success can be found within Hollywood by those who consider themselves Christians. However, I think the way to achieve that will fall outside the faith based genre. There have been and continue to be those within Hollywood who consider themselves Christians and present thoughtful and provocative films which fall outside of this genre. In fact, if Christians want a voice to show that there is validity to their artistry, I think they will have to venture outside of this genre. If they simply want to make a statement that there is support for a Christian voice out there, then they can continue to do what’s already been done and achieve the same results.