Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"War Room": a story about right and wrong, which works even without all the religion

War Room” starts with an image of a real one, looking like it derived from the Vietnam Ear.  Soon, we learn that it was run by the late husband of Miss Clara (Karen Abercombie), a nice widow wanting to sell her century house in Charlotte and downsize.  But she will need to have room for her prayer space, which has provided an unusual use for a “closet”.  The film (by Alex Kendrick) doesn’t deal further with the opportunities to explore ideas like the past military draft, and moves right on to the main course.  But has the appropriate tagline, "Prayer is a powerful weapon". 
That narrative concerns the marriage of Tony and Elizabeth Jordan (T. C. Stallings and Priscilla C. Shirier), a prosperous African-American couple with a mansion in Charlotte, with one daughter. Tony is a successful pharmaceutical rep salesman, and Elizabeth sells real estate.
Tension starts when Liz takes out a little money from their joint account to give to her impoverished sister.  First, as for the moral tone, Liz (of course) didn’t “choose” to have a less responsible sibling. Liz says the sister’s husband has been out of work any Tony insists that the sister’s husband is a loser (Trump style) and a deadbeat. He also lords over her the fact that he makes four times as much as she.
When Liz visits Clara to help put Clara’s house on the market, Clara pulls “faith” on her – in response to hints Liz drops about tension with her husband.  The closet, the war room, is where she prays.  She quickly explains what Christian grace is all about. 
It isn’t too long before the husband (predictably) gets into real trouble. His fall is sudden, as the first 45 minutes of the move has presented what “sales culture” is all about (more tactfully than did “100 Mile Rule”).  He has misstated inventory, and then kept drug samples and sold them on the side (or possibly used them).  (The firing might well have been shown, but the movie already runs two hours.) It’s not too hard to anticipate that the rest of the movie is about his and then the whole family’s redemption through repentance and prayer. 
One obvious question:  why was he so hard on a poor person (the sister’s husband) when he stole and cheated to get rich?  I could go into ways we can mooch and not view ourselves as criminals – and that’s a tangential but important discussion. A bigger question is, why would he need “Christianity” and prayer to see how wrong his stealing had been?  Any mainstream faith (including Judaism and Islam) would teach us that stealing is wrong, as would modern individualistic western culture (and our whole legal system).  “Atheist” (or agnostic) little Ronnie Reagan would be as quick to point out how wrong he was as any preacher.
There is a telling scene where a man with a knife tries to rob Elizabeth and Clara on a Charlotte street, and Clara refuses; when she prays for the thief, he goes away. Does he then repent?
So this is a story that could work with much less “intrusion” by religion.  I have had people “proselytize” to me, particularly one person in Dallas back in 1979, on a camping trip that I vividly remember.  I don't experience God as intervening personally as do some other people;  I still have my own free will and must be responsible for it, completely. Grace and forgiveness come into play because the world is an unequal place for almost all of us. 
The official site is here. The film is distributed by Sony Tri-Star (the mid-range distributor) and by Affirm, Sony’s faith-oriented films unit, and the Kendrick brothers. 
I saw it at Regal Potomac Yards (which could use remodeling), before an appreciative audience early Monday evening. 

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