WAR ROOM (PG)
The $20 Million Weekend Shake-UpHollywood prides itself on predicting the box office winners and losers, churning out reviews in every publication from Variety, to the Huffington Post touting the box office line-up just before each opening weekend. But every so often a film comes along that blows their minds. Two weeks ago it was War Room. This low-budget independent faith-based drama beat out the Owen Wilson - Pierce Brosnan action flick No Escape, and Zac Efron's R-rated dance drama, We are Your Friends. The film fought its way to the top box office spot in its 2nd weekend, beating out Straight Outta Compton to the shock and amazement of main stream Hollywood. Really? Wasn't it just last year that Tinseltown itself declared 2014 the "Year of the Bible" releasing blockbusters like Russell Crowe's Noah and Christian Bale's Exodus. Not to mention the runaway success of the History Channel's miniseries "The Bible," that steamrolled the Sunday night ratings for 8-weeks straight. So what's the difference? Apparently, a faith-based film made by faith-based people is considered a vastly different animal from a movie mogul's "artistically licensed" rendition. Just saying...
Confession time; I tend to steer away from most indie films of any kind because I'm a box office brat overdosed on ginormous budget, CGI, big name fluffs mobiles, that have about as much substance as an ice cream cone. Plus, many times indie films equal auto-stink in the production values department. I figure that if I'm spending $10 plus to get in, then I want some real bang for my buck. And...there is always Redbox. Just saying...
But for some reason I found myself breaking my own no-indie film rule and heading to the movie theater for the Kendrick brothers' latest big screen sermon. The Kendrick brothers' have risen to moderate fame in certain circles as producers of films such as Fire Proof (2008) and Courageous (2011), which both took in runaway profits up to $30 million. Amazing when you consider each film cost less than $5 million to make. I'm sorry, but I was no fan of either film (you can re-butt me in the comments). I like my films less Hallmark and more gritty.
The story begun quite typically; an affluent Black couple with a daughter are living in upper middle-class suburbia, and are having marital problems. Nothing unusual there, in fact in the first fifteen minutes I felt like I was indeed watching the Hallmark Channel. So, I tapped my bratty foot waiting for something interesting to happen. It did. The wife, Elizabeth Jordan (played by Priscilla Shirer) is a real estate agent, and her job takes her to the home of an elderly woman who intends to sell her house and move in with her son. Liz unwittingly arrives at the stately old woman's home and runs headlong into more than she bargained for, when she meets the rambunctious and feisty Miss Clara (hilariously played by Karen Ambercrombie).
Miss Clara takes a "shine" to Elizabeth and it's not long before Elizabeth finds herself sharing her troubled marriage with the older woman, who clearly has a hidden agenda in play. Karen Ambercrombie, (Turn Washington's Spies) was a fabulous scene-stealing gem sparkling like confetti in the role with audacity and humor, causing theater goers to burst out in unanimous laughter every time she spoke. Priscilla Shirer gave a moving emotional performance as a woman who is disillusioned by marital life and desperately needing help. T.C. Stallings played Elizabeth's husband Tony - a selfish self-aggrandizing pharmaceutical sales rep with a roving eye. Alena Pitts made her acting debut as their daughter Danielle - a part she played with such innocent sweetness made more enchanting by the freshness of her acting baptism.
Once Miss Clara began to role out her plan of action the story moved at a steady pace as each of the characters begins a metamorphosis, that was predictable, but nonetheless emotional. The story line deals liberally with the importance of family relationships and the potential consequences of neglect. Of course the film is a blatant evangelical tool for Christianity (it's a free country), and the Kendrick brothers' have no problem saying so.
But dang it - I laughed and cried so much in this film that my well-mounted foundation started running down my face past my blood-shot eyes in spite of myself. And, I was not alone, since I could hear sniffles coming from all over the theater; and I do believe it must have been church movie night, cause it seemed like every church goer for 20-miles around must have been there - the place was packed, and every so often I'd hear "Amen" or "that's right." And don't you know it - the whole theater burst into applause when the film ended. Take that Superman... Avengers... you know what I mean.
All said, it seems there is still room at the box office for faith-based films, as clearly evidenced by the success of War Room, and last year's highly successful Heaven is for Real. And, it seems that some big cheese moguls in Hollywood like Sony and TriStar Pictures (that distributed the film) have realized that anywhere there's an interested audience - there's definitely a buck to be made.