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War Room: Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

War Room (2015) movie poster War Room

Theatrical Release: August 28, 2015 / Running Time: 120 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Alex Kendrick / Writers: Alex Kendrick, Stephen Kendrick

Cast: Karen Abercrombie (Clara Williams), Priscilla Shirer (Elizabeth Jordan), T.C. Stallings (Tony Jordan), Tenae Downing (Veronica Drake), Alena Pitts (Danielle Jordan), Michael Jr. (Michael Alexander), Jadin Harris (Jennifer Stephens), Alex Kendrick (Coleman Young), Dave Blamy (Tom Stafford)

Buy War Room from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

The Kendrick Brothers have evolved into commercially formidable filmmakers by ignoring every piece of prevailing wisdom in Hollywood. Instead of hopping on the effects-laden PG-13 tentpole bandwagon, writer-director Alex and writer-producer Stephen have made movies that embody their belief system and appeal to the members of Sherwood Baptist,
their Albany, Georgia megachurch. Critics have not cared for the Kendricks' aesthetically challenged Christian dramas, but it hasn't made a difference, since each successive film has opened bigger, expanded further, and sold more tickets.

This year's effort, War Room, was perhaps too successful for the industry to ignore, but also too homegrown to try to imitate. The $68 million it grossed on a budget of just $3 million was more than what many an expensive mainstream film could draw from the domestic marketplace, from Fox's ill-fated Fantastic Four reboot to Johnny Depp's gangster flick Black Mass to the Wachowskis' Jupiter Ascending.

Despite the rises in attendance and the consistent critical disapproval, the Kendricks have not altered their approach to movies, which are designed more to proselytize than to entertain. They may intend for their work to do both of those things, but you'll never for a second doubt that the filmmakers are more concerned with viewers taking their Christian values to heart than simply enjoying two hours of their elementary original storytelling.

Among the lessons that Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie) teaches Elizabeth (Priscilla Shirer) in "War Room" is that you can disarm any mugger by telling them to drop their weapon in the name of Jesus Christ.

Though the title might make you expect a military film (after all, Fireproof was about a firefighter), War Room deals with the wars between husbands and wives. Elizabeth Jordan (Priscilla Shirer) is a realtor. Her husband Tony (T.C. Stallings) is a pharmaceutical sales rep. Their marriage may look rock solid to outside observers, but we know better, bearing witness to squabbles over money. He vehemently objects to her giving $5,000 from their joint account to a family member, because, after all, he makes four times as much as his wife does. Tony also has a wandering eye and few scruples about the schmoozing his lucrative job entails.

Elizabeth is put on the spot by Miss Clara Williams (Karen Abercrombie), the film's opening narrator and a potential client. Forty years a widow, Clara is about to finally put her house on the market, but she has some questions for Elizabeth before she does. Clara uses a lukewarm cup of coffee to teach Elizabeth a lesson about her relationship with Christ and then informs her of the power of prayer. Soon, Elizabeth is doing as instructed: clearing a closet out of clothes, shoes, and other distractions to simply pray to God.

The redecoration is part of a bigger housecleaning of Elizabeth's soul. After becoming aware of how their daughter Danielle (Alena Pitts) has been neglected, Elizabeth takes an interest in the girl's new extracurricular activity: Double Dutch jump roping. Dramatically telling the Devil to get out of her house and marriage, Elizabeth's newfound spiritual commitment soon has an effect on Tony, who after nearly committing adultery, loses his job, his car, and his cell phone. The movie's big climax ponders what else Tony could stand to lose, by confessing to his former employees that he has been scraping a bit off the top of his pharmaceutical samples, a crime for which he could easily serve jail time.

Tony Jordan (T.C. Stallings) gets a shot at redemption, while Elizabeth (Priscilla Shirer) stands by her man.

War Room resembles the other Kendrick-made movies, which include Courageous (2011), Facing the Giants (2006), and the aforementioned Fireproof (2008).
The acting is a bit spotty. The dramatic and cinematic instincts are far from finely tuned. There is an overlong Double Dutch climax and what must go down as 2015's most ludicrous dream sequence. The film runs too long and its pacing is haphazard. As art, it is lacking. As a vessel for the Kendrick brothers to spread God's word, it is easier to appreciate. Though the cast isn't as green as those of earlier Kendrick productions, you still notice that these individuals would probably identify themselves as Christians before actors. It is clear that they believe what they are saying and that they think this movie can do some good for those whose faith, priorities, and marriages could use some realignment.

Those intentions make it somewhat pointless to linger on War Room's failings as a film. It may have opened the same day as Zac Efron's We Are Your Friends and Owen Wilson's No Escape, but it's not at all competing with them (though it decimated both at the box office). You can't ignore or excuse the manipulation and minimal sophistication of War Room, but you have to recognize that many people who watch it don't care about cinema as an art form. Heck, I'm not even sure the Kendricks make movies because they respect and treasure the medium; they might just recognize its reach and impact.

War Room does seem to do questionable things, like depicting prayer as having instant, widespread, and almost magical impact. Most of those who believe in prayer's power would not suggest it works like that. The movie also gives us the idea that muggers will stop in their tracks if they are instructed to drop their knives in the name of Jesus.

I guess there is some value to this on a faith level. And in terms of African American movie opportunities, this is preferable to most of Tyler Perry's stuff (but only barely).

Just in time for Christmas, Sony brings War Room to stores this week on DVD and the Blu-ray + Digital HD edition reviewed here.

War Room Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English, Portuguese), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Descriptive Video Service, French, Spanish, Thai)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Chinese Traditional, Chinese Simplified, Indonesian, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Tagalog, Thai, Vietnamese
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Thai
Release Date: December 22, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($30.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

War Room stretches its modest budget far, as the $3 million production looks every bit as polished as its more lavish contemporaries. The sharp and pristine picture (utilizing the 2.40:1 aspect ratio) leaves nothing to be desired in 1080p. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack also commands notice and satisfies, with its crisp dialogue and spread out montage music selections.

Christian movies have bloopers too! Filmmaking brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick talk from the North Carolina set of "War Room."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray is loaded with bonus features, a few of them exclusive to this format, but most of them also making it to the DVD version that is not included here.

First up comes an audio commentary by director Alex Kendrick and producer Stephen Kendrick. Like other filmmakers, the brothers speak to their craft and technique. Unlike other commentaries,
this one has a kind of outsiders' view of the business and they point out the inexperienced people who filled their cast and the locations that housed their shoots. The Kendricks also speak to the spiritual lessons to gleam from the film, which are already pretty lucid, peppering in Bible verses that number among the Easter eggs they point out hidden in the film.

On the video side, where all is encoded in HD, we begin with a reel of deleted scenes (10:50). They show us Elizabeth and Tony bickering in the car after church, Tony performing the shady workplace manuever for which he will one day be in trouble, an outlandish holistic doctor played for laughs (who gets a comic comeuppance), more of Tony and his male friend (Michael Jr.), Clara's move out, and an embarrassing display of Elizabeth's parenting.

War Room may not be a comedy, but it still provides plenty of "Bloopers & Outtakes." The 6-minute reel presents flubbed lines (of which there are many), missed marks, and general behind-the-scenes amusement all set to enthusiastic score.

"War Room in 60 Seconds" (1:14) strings together rapid on-the-nose takes, giving you the gist of the plot without the time the full film demands. It has genuine value.

"The Heart of War Room" (6:06) lets everyone speak highly of the project's call to prayer, complete with Bible verses and passion.

"The Making of War Room" (11:12) takes us inside the North Carolina production, with specifics regarding found filming locations and how the shoot was basically a blessed one.

Prayerful nonagenarian Molly Bruno is celebrated as a "Modern Day Miss Clara." Steven Curtis Chapman performs his end credits song "Warrior" a little too close to the camera in his music video.

"From Auditioning to Acting" (8:19) gives us insight into the casting process, going through the principals and explaining how the actors landed the parts.

"The Art of Jumping Rope" (2:33) acknowledges the activity
that features in the film more extensively than it needs to.

"A Pastor's Call to Prayer" (2:31) lets crew and religious authorities vouch for the importance and necessity of prayer, something clearly supporting the film's main thrust.

"Behind the Scenes: Color Grading" (4:12) gets into a subject even few film buffs give thought: the post-production process of coloring. The examples do effectively demonstrate the digital magic that can be done to make the film look completely different than what it was.

"The Church on Its Knees" (7:52) turns our attentions to churches that are making prayer the focal point of their ministry.

"Molly Bruno: Modern Day Miss Clara" (7:50) celebrates the 91-year-old Italian-American "prayer warrior" who was a friend and inspiration to the production. She got to see the film's first cut before passing away.

"Investing in the Next Generation" (3:10) pats the production on its back for giving free hands-on film set experience to aspiring filmmakers evidently working as unpaid interns.

Finally, a music video for Steven Curtis Chapman's uplifting end credits song "Warrior" (4:34) jumps between unsettling close-ups of the guitarist-singer performing and clips from the movie. Somehow, this did not make the recently-issued list of 74 compositions eligible for the forthcoming Best Original Song Oscar.

Without having the disc I can't say for certain, but the packaging indicates that everything except the bloopers, the color grading and Double Dutch pieces, and Steven Curtis Chapman's music video can also be found on the DVD edition.

The disc opens with a general Affirm Films promo followed by individual trailers for a number of things carrying that label: When the Game Stands Tall, Moms' Night Out, Courageous, Fireproof, Facing the Giants, and The Grace Card. The whole long lot of them is repeated when you select the disc's "Previews" listing.

The dramatically scored menu plays clips in Polaroids on a fridge. Like other Sony BDs, the disc supports both bookmarks and resuming playback.

Topped by a glossy slipcover featuring the same artwork below, the side-snapped keepcase holds an insert with codes for unlocking the complimentary digital copy and for also nabbing another Sony movie for just $5.99 shipped.

Elizabeth (Priscilla Shirer) doesn't immediately grasp the purpose of a prayer closet, initially using it to eat chips and drink Sprite in private.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

War Room is unlikely to change your view of the Sherwood Baptist Church's movies. Whether you enjoyed Fireproof and Courageous or found them risible, I see no reason why you would feel any differently about the Kendrick Brothers' latest effort, another earnest call to spirituality that is ungraceful as cinema but seemingly sincere and passionate as a preaching tool.

Sony's Blu-ray boasts a first-rate feature presentation plus a hearty assembly of extras. I can't get behind the film enough to recommend it, but if you're already a fan, you should not be disappointed by this release in any way.

Buy War Room from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Alex Kendrick: Fireproof | Affirm Films: Heaven Is For Real The Remaining Moms' Night Out Soul Surfer

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Reviewed December 22, 2015.



Text copyright 2015 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2015 Sony, TriStar Pictures, FaithStep Films, Provident Films, Affirm Films, Kendrick Brothers and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
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