|Karen Abercrombi does battle in her "war room"|
“There is Fighting in the War Room”
A Review of War Room by Nick Olszyk
MPAA Rating, PG
USCCB Rating, NA
Reel Rating, Four Reels
Orson Welles once remarked that there were two things that could never convincingly be shown on the silver screen: sex and prayer. War Room proved him wrong on the latter. Not only does it convincingly demonstrate prayer but also forgiveness, temptation, conversion, and, most importantly, the cosmic struggle between God and the Devil that occurs in every home and every heart. This is the fifth outing by independent Christian filmmakers Alex and Steven Kendrick, and while it’s not a masterpiece, it is easily their best work and provides hope for even better things to come.
` War Room hits the ground running, stating its theme immediately through exposition, that life is a heavenly battle greater than any physical one and must be fought with courage. Thus director Alex Kendrick sets his movie up not so as a traditional narrative but as a strategic road map for spiritual warfare with a nice story to keep the lessons moving. This is a risky decision but the characters and writing are so well developed that it never appears constructed.
This venture involves an upper-middle class family that is slowly unraveling. The mother Elizabeth Jordan (Priscilla Shirer) is a real estate agent with a knack for fancy clothes and smelly feet. Her husband Tony Jordan (T.C. Stallings) is a superstar salesman at a pharmaceutical company who loves going to the gym and flirting with secretaries. Neither seems to notice or care about their ten year old daughter Danielle (Alena Pitts), and they bicker constantly. By providence, Elizabeth takes on older widow Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombi) as a client, who quickly senses her predicament and suggests creating a “war room.” Based on the Jesus’ teaching on praying secret, the idea is to create a private space like a closet to pray. One can keep spiritual literature, post bible verses on the wall, and list special intentions. “Do your fighting in prayer,” Miss Clara instructs. “Your husband is not the enemy. Satan is the enemy.” Elizabeth takes her words to heart, and results soon follow…with unexpected challenges as well.
An observant viewer will be pleasantly surprised at how Catholic this movie smells. The concept of a war room is a wonderful idea but Eastern Christians have kept prayer corners in their homes for millennia. Miss Clara also puts a huge emphasis on praying for others as a source of strength. This is not simply wishful thinking but affects the relationships of all those involved, like the communion of saints. There is even a scene where Elizabeth, alone in her living room, demands that by the power of Jesus Satan leave her family alone, then opens the door for him to go. Father Merrin would be proud. So would Pope Francis. These ideas come from a 21st century evangelical Protestantism that has somewhat left behind the tired, old anti-Catholic bigotry of America’s past and is more willing to see the wisdom and biblical basis of many Catholic practices.
The best and most touching scenes occur after Elizabeth has committed to praying for her husband rather than pestering him. He goes through a dramatic conversion, and they both ask each other for forgiveness. However, he knows that salvation demands not only contrition but penance. Tony admits to his employer that he has been emblemizing drugs for his own profit, risking not only his job but jail time. Here’s the moment War Room rises above the usual primetime morning televangelism who preach that health care benefits as a reward for worship. Conversion costs something. When a Christian takes up the mantle of warrior, he accepts that he will be injured in battle. The Jordan family loses much by the end of the film but what they gain as a family unit is so infinitely better, they do not seem to mind one bit.
Despite these gains, War Room still suffers from the standard faults of its kin. Some of the lazy is dialogue, several moments are really cheesy, and the climatic double-dutch jump rope competition was completely rigged. Yet these are these nitpicky rambling of a reviewer who is admittedly a little jaded. This film takes seriously the reality of spiritual warfare and has some pretty decent suggestions on how to fight it. As a young father currently toilet training his first son while his second is due within two months, I found it reassuring and helpful that someone had my back. What else matters?
This article first appeared in Catholic World Report on September 8th, 2015.