The War Room (1993)
Starring: James Carville, George Stephanopoulos
Directed by: Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker
4 out of 5
Although Bill Clinton became president of the United States, it was James Carville and George Stephanopolous who won the election in 1992. That seems to be what directors Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker are telling us in their documentary The War Room – an absorbing look into what campaigns are capable of.
You don’t have to be politically minded to get sucked into the whirlwind that the two create with their engaged camera work and encompassing editing. A large part of what makes The War Room so memorable is the presence of strategist James Carville and communications director George Stephanopoulos, now household media names, then just two guys running a campaign.
Both men anchor the film so well that its structure just seems to fall into place. Capturing the think-on-your-feet brilliance of both, we also get a fly on the wall account of America at the time, pre-internet, still divided by two parties.
Hegedus’ and Pennebaker’s film fits comfortably within the tradition of cinema verité, bypassing voiceover narration and simply presenting the events as they played. But the film’s propulsive structure reveals a pair of brilliant filmmakers — not passive, but one’s who carefully shaped a great timepiece of the Clinton campaign, with Bill making a handful of memorable cameos to boot.
Special Features: Criterion has put together a wealth of extras. On the political spectrum, A 2008 sequel Return of the War Room features Hegedus and Pennebaker revisit with Carville and Stephanopoulos reflecting on the 1992 campaign, while a panel discussion hosted by the William J. Clinton Foundation features Clinton offering anecdotes and a keen eye on his legacy.
On the film spectrum, Hegedus and Pennebaker gather for a new discussion about how the production came together. Recorded separately is Nick Doob on the techniques necessary for making a film like this function and breath.
Overall: A fascinating doc, revved up with some fabulous special features. Politics were never the same after Carville and Stephanopoulos took over. This remains a great introduction to a brief history in the arena of American politics.
Buy or Rent: Buy…especially if you’re a political junkie.