THE WAR ROOM is a feature-length cinema verite documentary which follows the 1992 presidential campaign of Governor Bill Clinton by focusing on two of the candidate's key strategists, James Carville and George Stephanopoulos. Offering rare, behind-the-scenes glimpses into the way a
political campaign is conducted, THE WAR ROOM proved a modest hit on the art-house circuit.
The film begins with the New Hampshire primary in February 1992 and follows Clinton's campaign through the subsequent primaries; the Democratic Convention in New York; the debates with President Bush and independent candidate H. Ross Perot; and, finally, the election of Clinton as President on
November 3rd. The bulk of the filming was done in various Clinton campaign headquarters--in New Hampshire, New York, and Little Rock--and captures the efforts of campaign manager Carville and director of communications Stephanopoulos as they guide the campaign through its rough spots. They help
direct strategy sessions; supervise speech rewrites; defend Clinton before the TV cameras; prepare for, and exercise "spin control" after, the debates; and watch the numbers come in on Election Day. They are frequently seen talking on the phone with Governor Clinton and with reporters. In one
extended sequence, they work strenuously to get the press to investigate a story discovered in a Portuguese-language news segment taken off Brazilian TV. The story reveals how millions of dollars worth of Bush/Quayle campaign literature was printed in Brazil, possibly violating FEC rules.
Interspersed with these sequences are video clips taken from TV news footage of the campaign offering glimpses of the other candidates--most notably Paul Tsongas, Jerry Brown, President Bush, and H. Ross Perot--as well as coverage of negative stories about Clinton, including Gennifer Flowers'
allegations of a longtime love affair with the Governor and Clinton's Vietnam-era efforts to elude the draft. The final segment follows Carville and Stephanopoulos as they monitor Clinton's progress on Election Day, gradually coming to grips with their candidate's emergence as victor and finally
joining the evening celebration on the street before the State House in Little Rock.
Though the two main subjects of THE WAR ROOM initially seem wary of the camera, they gradually become oblivious to its presence, creating a very genuine sense that the audience has been allowed into an uncensored, previously undocumented arena. Carville, dubbed "the ragin' Cajun," emerges as a
wiry, energetic, committed, and very shrewd campaigner, while Stephanopoulos comes off as little more than an efficient yuppie operative--smart, affable, obedient, colorless. One thing that prevents these two characters from fully engaging our interest, however, is that their motivations are never
explored. Is this just a well-paid job, or do they sincerely believe in the candidate?
Veteran documentarians D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus make fine use of traditional verite techniques--hand-held cameras, extended long takes--to create a compelling, dramatic portrait that should appeal to anyone with even the slightest interest in the political process. (Profanity.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: PG
- Review: THE WAR ROOM is a feature-length cinema verite documentary which follows the 1992 presidential campaign of Governor Bill Clinton by focusing on two of the candidate's key strategists, James Carville and George Stephanopoulos. Offering rare, behind-the-scen… (more)