Is War Room a Movie or a Sermon?
by Phil Boatwright

One thing we’ve come to rely on when watching a film by those pastor-com-moviemaking Kendrick Brothers in Georgia is a resonate story wrapped around a noble lesson. In their newest release, War Room, however, they paint their parable with just the slightest of brushstrokes, as if forgetting the Golden Rule of the motion picture – Thou Shalt Put Story First. Is there an exception to this rule?

The story, what there is of it, has to do with Tony and Elizabeth Jordan, a young couple who seemingly have it all. In reality, their marriage is falling apart. It’s as if their relationship is built on a foundation of sand. Enter Miss Clara, an older, wiser woman, who passes on life lessons to Elizabeth that, if taken seriously, can not only save the marriage, but give it a new dimension.

I grant you, the film’s theme (the importance of prayer and reviving reverence for God), is so needed, so necessary and so timely that the breaking of some silver screen edicts may be overlooked. And though the storyline is as thin as an M&M candy-coated shell, there is one and it is relatable: Sooner or later all marriages will suffer attack.

We’ve seen several faith-based films address the need for strategy when guarding the sanctity of marriage, including Stephen and Alex Kendrick’s own Fireproof. And this new film brings home effectively the need for a thoughtful approach to protecting one’s marriage. Indeed, this shielding tactic is as important as acquiring a life insurance policy once the nuptials have been read. But is War Room a movie or a sermon?

Bottom line: if you want moviegoers to take your message to heart, get them involved in story, character and performance. This sugar helps make the saving directive go down.

Christian filmmakers should take to heart the examples passed on by secular filmmakers. In the 1970s and ‘80s, Jane Fonda was very message driven. Despite being passionately driven concerning social issues, however, Ms. Fonda understood the medium of movies. And sure enough, we listened to her arguments because we got caught up in her films’ stories and her vulnerable characterizations. I’m not saying we bought her viewpoints, I’m just saying we listened.

Looking over Christian filmmakers Stephen and Alex Kendrick’s body of work, Flywheel, Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous, you must come to the conclusion that their approach to filmmaking is a blend of mission field proselytizing infused with a parable-based drama or comedy or actioneer. And while all of their films fall short of 4-star presentation, their intent is sincere and, more often than not, entertainingly presented.

While I would hesitate to call this their finest offering, here’s why I think you should support War Room. I come back to the film’s thematic element, the need for strategy. That point pops out quickly and is prominent throughout. The first step taken before any battle is preparedness. Prayer is the essential prep work.

From Studio Press Notes:

“People have plans for everything in life: careers, finances, health. But what about a strategy for prayer to affect our lives, our spouses and our children?” Director and co-writer Alex Kendrick said. “We want to inspire, challenge and motivate families to not just react but plan through the right kind of battles--and to use the best resources possible.”

“On our own, we lack the resources and capacity to do the things that honor and glorify the Lord,” Stephen said. “Yet God invites us, through prayer, to know Him and serve Him fully.”

I once heard Pastor Charles Stanley talk about his own prayer room. As I recall, it is some sort of closet where he can shut out the world’s distractions and focus on spiritual matters. He understands that God isn’t some celestial servant we call upon as if He were a trained English butler. The first four of the Ten Commandments make clear that God demands reverence. Before the Thou Shalt Nots that pertain to how we relate to our fellow man, the first commandments direct us in how to honor, worship and respect our Creator.

True prayer is more about how we relate to our Heavenly Father than the bucket list we bring before Him. Or, should be. War Room is all about that simple, yet profound truism.

If I were to focus on War Room’s cinematic merits, I would be forced to dip my goose quill in venom (reference borrowed from Waldo Lydecker in Laura). But I suspect that to the Kendrick brothers, the film’s theme is far more important than their technical and artistic achievements.

War Room’s parable might have been more effective in a documentary format, spotlighting couples who came to the realization that in order to survive the storms of life we need to put on the full armor of God. That said, at least the Stephen and Alex have addressed a clear and present danger and given moviegoers a solid answer.

Rated PG, War Room features Priscilla Evans Shirer, T.C. Stallings and Karen Abercrombie. From Affirm Films, the faith-based drama was written by Stephen and Alex Kendrick, with Alex directing. It opens in selected theaters 8/28/15.