War Room, The

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



War Room, The

DOCUMENTARY:

United States, 1994

Running Length:

1:36

MPAA Classification:

NR (Profanity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

1.85:1

Cast:

James Carville, George Stephanopoulos, Heather Backel, Paul Begala, Stan Greenberg, Mickey Kantor, Mary Matalin, Mitchell Schwartz

Director:

D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus

Screenplay:

D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus

U.S. Distributor:

October Films

Subtitles:

none


The War Room is the story of James Carville and George Stephanopoulos, and their efforts on behalf of Bill Clinton throughout the 1992 Presidential campaign. From the New Hampshire primary to election night, The War Room depicts Carville and Stephanopoulos' backroom strategy sessions and public moves as they catapulted their man from a virtual unknown to President Elect.

This is not Bill Clinton's story, nor is it an account of how he beat the odds to become the first Democratic President in 12 years. Rather, The War Room is an examination of two of the men instrumental in the victory: James Carville, the "Ragin' Cajun", and, to a lesser extent, the yuppiesque George Stephanopoulos.

Carville, with his buoyant personality and glib one-liners, naturally steals every scene from the soft-spoken Stephanopoulos. Without Carville, this could have been yet another dry documentary on the behind-the-scenes political process. Stephanopoulos is intelligent, but he's not particularly interesting. Carville, on the other hand, is magnetic, not only because of his keen intellect, but because everything he does is suffused with a sense of sincerity.

Most of the highlights of The War Room are quips and one-liners from Carville. About George Bush: "He reeks of yesterday. If I think of an old calendar, I think of George Bush." About Ross Perot's overblown and self-aggrandizing campaign: "...the biggest single act of masturbation in the history of the world." On election eve, even as a Clinton victory seems certain, Carville ad-libs a tongue-in-cheek concession speech that, while amusing, sounds exactly what the candidate might have said had Bush made a miraculous comeback.

While most of the movie focuses on Carville's professional activities as he heads the efforts to defuse the Gennifer Flowers situation, prepares a television commercial, and leads the attack on the Republicans, we are given a glimpse into his personal life. His girlfriend, Mary Matalin, appears several times -- albeit doing her job as President Bush's campaign strategist.

Clinton, Bush, and Perot have peripheral roles in this film that concentrates its attention on the people behind the Democratic campaign strategies. While elements of the tactics used by the members of the so-called "War Room" are revealed (including a fascinating discussion of the relative importance of the colors of Clinton/Gore signs at the Democratic Convention), the movie is less concerned with political maneuvering than with the maneuverers.

Whether your political persuasion is Democratic, Republican, or somewhere in between, The War Room offers a fascinating insider's look at the turbulent 1992 Presidential campaign. Anyone with any interest in politics or elections will be engrossed, so it's a pleasure to note that the directors plan a followup in 1996.





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