Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Movie Review - War Room

I'm a day late on this blog entry. One reason is because of the holiday weekend. I'm off on everything. The second reason is because I wanted to use this entry to review the film War Room, which we watched on Labor Day.

First, I need to put this in perspective. My goal for this blog is to connect all of my entries back to the film It's a Wonderful Life. So please allow me to do that with War Room.

When it was released in 1946, It's a Wonderful Life reportedly received bad reviews. This myth is not true. According to Jeanine Basinger, author of The It's a Wonderful Life Book, “sample reviews from around the country indicate that almost everyone liked It’s a Wonderful Life and many people loved it. The reviews were not entirely favorable, but the overall response was enthusiastic” (54).

In Britain, however, critics hated it. A review in the April 7, 1947 Daily Mail said, “This isn’t a film. It’s a full gale of sentiment” (Basinger 66).

British journalist Jonathan Coe claims that “It’s a Wonderful Life opened to a reasonable but not outstanding business … and received mixed notices: many reviewers liked it but the British and East Coast critics were occasionally savage, calling it ‘a figment of simple Pollyanna platitudes,’ ‘an orgy of sweetness’ and ‘an embarrassment to both flesh and spirit’” (81-82).

This film received poor reviews in Britain because it was made for Americans. It was created to support and empower an American ideology, not a British ideology. The British audience may have understood the general, stated message that “no man is a failure who has friends,” but the deeper meanings — including the messages relating to capitalism and the American Dream — were lost to the British audience.

This idea is illustrated in a review in the April 3, 1947 issue of the British Evening News: “I believe this to be a very good film—for Americans” (Basinger 66). It also can be seen in Coe’s evaluation of the film:

For most people it seems that the film’s conviction and 
emotional momentum…carry all before them. And yet there are 
several evasions and contradictions at its heart. Most notably, 
the depiction of “Pottersville” — the nightmarish vision of how 
quaint little Bedford Falls would have turned out if George Bailey 
hadn’t been there to save it — looks feeble today … Besides, if 
Bailey alone has prevented this from coming to pass, isn’t this a 
damning comment on the lack of enterprise and resilience among 
all the other “little men” who live in Bedford Falls? And if small-town 
life is so great, why can it only be saved, in the end, by a large cash 
donation from the one friend of Bailey’s who has managed to leave his 
home town and make a name for himself in the business? (82).

This is an interesting statement, and at face value, it raises some very interesting and valid questions. However, Coe, who lives in London, misses the components of time, relationships, and dedication, and faith in his argument.

Coe seems to argue that it is okay to get rich and walk away from your home town and the people who helped “raise” you. In fact, it is okay to travel and have a life away from where you were born. After all, the American Dream is based around the dreams of individuals, and was the luring force that brought many European immigrants to America. However, It’s a Wonderful Life argues that travel experiences and dreams are more meaningful when you stay in your hometown. You benefit from those experiences when you apply them to your life in order to give back to those who helped raise you, and with whom you have developed a strong relationship over a long period of time. The longer the relationship is allowed to grow, the stronger the bond and the commitment to the needs of others will become.

In his biography of Stewart, which focuses on finding common themes among many of Stewart’s films, Coe analyzed Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In that analysis, Coe wrote, “When viewing the film today, then, we should perhaps make an effort to see it in its historical context, remembering that back in 1939 its ringing exaltation of America as the land of the free must have carried great symbolic weight…” (56-57).

This also should be true when the British, or anyone else, watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Coe does not mention the need for a consideration of Americanism in his analysis of It’s a Wonderful Life.

The same argument can be made regarding the 2015 film War Room, which is about a woman who learns about the power of prayer and uses it to save her marriage. This film is the creation of Stephen and Alex Kendrick, who also created memorable films such as Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and (my favorite of the batch) Courageous. All of these films are unapologetically Christian in their message and either teach or remind their audience how to trust God when you feel you can't keep going and want to give up.

War Room is no different. During its first week, it was the second top-grossing film. During Labor Day weekend, it topped the box office.

Source: http://goo.gl/6M6nts
Yet, with that kind of success, one has to question the kinds of ratings it has received. Its Rotten Tomato score, reported on Flixter.com this morning was a mere 36% of critics liking the film. However, its Flixter user score is 91 percent. Why?

There could be many reasons. First, personal taste definitely accounts for something. Secondly, professional reviewers watch film after film after film and at some point, I believe they lock into the things they like and the  things they don't like. As a former journalist, I can say that I became jaded. I believe movie reviewers face the same problem.

Source: http://goo.gl/xerovZ
But I also believe that the reviewers don't understand the intended audience the Kendrick Brothers were aiming for. Almost all of the critics who gave War Room a horrid review use all of the same tried-and-true arguments of atheists: Why not give credit where credit is due? What about the hypocrisy? Why are you trying to force your God down my throat? Why so heavy-handed?

They forget that they paid for a ticket and they are doing their job. They fail in their reviews where the British fail in their reviews of War Room: They can't relate.

If you are British, you won't understand the full complexity of It's a Wonderful Life. If you aren't a Christian, you won't fully understand the message of War Room. You haven't studied the Word. You don't understand the Word. You take witty pot-shots from your high throne in New York and believe you have all of the answers. 

As a Christian, I don't claim to have all of the answers - ask my wife; she will agree - but I'm learning. And that's what War Room does - it teaches. I agree with many of the critics that the acting is pretty stiff, but that's where the nay-sayers and I part company. I would urge you to watch War Room in an attempt to learn, not to judge. Judging is easy. Judging is lazy. It's harder and more noble to take the lessons of War Room and apply them to your own life.

Watch the trailer below and visit the Web site:


Basinger, Jeanine (in Collaboration with the trustees of the Frank Capra Archives), Interviews by
        Leonard Maltin. The It’s a Wonderful Life Book. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1996.

Coe, Jonathan. Jimmy Stewart: A Wonderful Life. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1994.

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