The War Room Blu-ray review

Starring: James Carville, George Stephanopoulos, Bill Clinton, Heather Beckel, Paul Begala
Directors: D. A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus
Language: English
Subtitles: English
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Criterion Collection
Release Date: March 20, 2012
Run Time: 96 minutes

            These days another documentary wouldn’t mean all that much, especially due to the ever-increasing ease due to the advances in technology, but even more so due to the subsequent rise in popularity. These days we can easily forget that it wasn’t that long ago that documentaries were rarer onscreen than a foreign film in the United States. This changed with Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock, who have proved that even a blockbuster documentary is possible. When The War Room was made in the early 1990s, however, there was little attention to the medium or realism in general. This political documentary has seen many replicas since, but the mere trailblazing quality of it in 1993 is what makes it so significant.

            Directors D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, along with producers R.J. Cutler, Wendy Ettinger and Frazer Pennebaker began their filmmaking project with the hopes of getting access to Presidential candidate Bill Clinton during his 1992 campaign. They were denied access to the candidate, though they were instead giving access to film the war room in Little Rock, Arkansas, where James Carville directed the campaign. Having to change the focus of the film meant shifting from Clinton to the campaign staff. The focusing primarily remains on Carville and advisor George Stephanopoulos, both of whom have garnered quite successful and public careers since this film. 

            Though there are some gaps filled with footage of Clinton and his answers in response to the sexual relationship allegations of Gennifer Flowers, more attention is given to the manner in which the campaign workers are able to spin the bad news in a way that makes the Republicans look bad. Politics is entertainment and show business, and these two men are great at what they do. They even convince us that they aren’t aware of the camera being there the entire time.

            The Blu-ray release of The War Room includes a new, restored high definition digital transfer, approved by directors Hegedus and Pennebaker. There is also a 2008 documentary, Return of the War Room, in which many from the first film return to comment on the influence of their film on how campaigns are now run. There is also new interview footage, including details on the difficulties shooting a campaign. Also included is a booklet with an essay by writer Louis Menand.

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