The War Room (1993)

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A look inside the 1992 presidential race, D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hedgus' documentary The War Room explores the backstage side of national politics by examining the day-to-day operations of Bill Clinton's campaign staff. The behind-the-scenes leader of the group is James Carville, the demonstrative, charismatic campaign manager who relies on a plain-speaking manner and emotional appeals to motivate his subordinates. He is complemented by the quieter, smoother personality and photogenic looks of young press spokesman George Stephanopoulous. The filmmakers follow these two contrasting personalities from the January New Hampshire primary to Clinton's eventual victory, as they attempt to cling to an overall strategic plan while dealing with unforeseen problems and negative press, as their candidate is saddled with accusations of adultery and draft-dodging. Subplots include the rivalries between Democratic campaign staffs -- which can become amusingly petty, as when they accuse each other of tearing down campaign posters -- and the romantic relationship between Carville and Mary Matalin, chief strategist for George Bush's campaign. Co-director D.A. Pennebaker (Monterey Pop, Don't Look Back, Primary) is renowned as an innovator in the use of cinema-verite, used here to show both the mundane complications and the emotional highlights of the modern political process.
Rating:
PG
Genre:
Documentary , Drama , Special Interest
Directed By:
In Theaters:
 wide
On DVD:
Runtime:
Studio:
Criterion Collection

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Critic Reviews for The War Room

All Critics (22) | Top Critics (4)

It's a testament to the supreme skills of Hegedus and Pennebaker that they managed to craft a film that so easily could have gone astray.

Full Review… | December 28, 2012
ScreenAnarchy

It's so intoxicating that sometimes it's easy forget we are, in effect, watching a couple of pitch men selling that year's newest brand of soap.

Full Review… | April 30, 2012
Movie Metropolis

Illustrates in often amusing detail how the Clinton team managed to overcome petty hostilities and seize the day -- and the White House.

Full Review… | April 25, 2012
Creative Loafing

Politics as sporting event run by wonks. Fascinating but repellent in trademark Pennebaker-Hegedus fashion.

Full Review… | October 4, 2006
rec.arts.movies.reviews

An invaluable record of Bill Clinton's unlikely rise to the White House.

December 4, 2002
Flipside Movie Emporium

Quote not available.

Full Review… | September 7, 2011
Entertainment Weekly
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The War Room

Presented in a shockingly hands-off fashion, The War Room is the most insightful look at politics ever put to film. Documentarians Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker don't judge their subjects, nor do they weigh in on the politics of the moment. Both would be mistakes, robbing The War Room of its most interesting quality-its unabashed honesty. Key figures like James Carville and George Stephanopoulos (who are household names now, but weren't exactly at the time of the film's release) don't play for the cameras; They go about their business as they would if Hegedus and Pennebaker weren't around. They don't even look at the camera. It's a little startling at first because documentaries just aren't made this way anymore. But it's a great watch, and the subject matter is compelling enough that interference and manipulation aren't necessary to keep you glued to the screen. The film follows Carville, Stephanopoulos, and the other key figures in Governor Bill Clinton's 1992 bid for the presidency. It starts in New Hampshire with the Clinton candidacy on the ropes. Gennifer Flowers had just come forward with a potentially damning story about her supposed 12-year affair with him, and his opponents (especially California Governor Jerry Brown) seem poised for big things. But a surprise second-place finish and the new monicker "Comeback Kid" help turn the campaign around and ultimately drive him toward the nomination. Carville and company are working with a totally different playbook, and they're going to need it with the attack machine of President George H. W. Bush ready to head into overdrive. There are moments of pure idealism in The War Room. Carville's Election Day Eve speech to his crew is genuinely moving, and the anger he expresses when venting to colleagues about the media's portrayal of their candidate is equally sincere. As often as the film depicts politics as an honorable game, however, someone does something cold and calculating. Take Stephanopoulos' Election Day Eve phone call from a Ross Perot staffer. With an extremely problematic (for Clinton) allegation on the table, Stephanopoulos politely threatens his opponent before heading into the next room to celebrate with his friends and colleagues. It's an admittedly brilliant move, but it's not exactly one of the campaign's finest hours. With political campaigning more brutal than ever before, the maneuvering in The War Room seems benign by comparison. But the lessons learned still seem relevant. The luckiest people are the ones who work the hardest. You really can't go anywhere unless you believe in the cause. And (of course), it's the economy, stupid. http://www.johnlikesmovies.com/war-room/

John Gilpatrick
John Gilpatrick

Interesting time capsule and inside view of history and politics. James Carville is a really interesting figure, and is almost more the focal point than Bill Clinton.

Matt Heiser
Matt Heiser
½

Works fine as a documentary but it's point is very unclear. At times it's showing political genius and at others it's showing political corruption.

Alex Suszko
Alex Suszko

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