Directed by veteran documentarian D.A. Pennebaker and his wife, Chris Hegedus, "The War Room" is an exploration of the behind-the-scenes inner workings of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. Despite the fact that this is Clinton's campaign, we really don't hear directly from the candidate much - instead, this documentary focuses on two very opposite leaders of the campaign - James ("The Ragin' Cajun") Carville and the more subdued, straightforward George Stephanopoulos.
The film opens with bad news, as the campaign comes up against reported adultery by Clinton in the Gennifer Flowers scandal. The rest of the film shows the two campaign leaders providing crisis control and finding out new ways to push the positives. Looming over the entire enterprise is the fact that they can't seem to catch a break from the press. Stephanopoulos is shown having to have to deal with a secretive caller who threatens to reveal further secrets about more potential adultery by Clinton.
The film's star is Carville, who manages to come up with a great deal of funny one-liners regarding the other side and his struggles to try and spin and overcome obstacles presented left and right. There's only a little bit about his relationship with Bush strategist Mary Matalin, unfortunately. Stephanopoulos becomes overshadowed at times, but he still has moments throughout the film where he does a surprising job staying cool and subdued under pressure.
While it would have been nice for Clinton to have more direct participation in the film, the fact that we follow the two leaders and their staff in their quest makes this a unique and enjoyable picture that shows more about the day-to-day events of campaigning.
VIDEO: Unfortunately, this seems to be a rush job from Universal. The film's original aspect ratio was 1.66:1 and the film was shot on 16mm. Unfortunately, the studio has decided to present this title in 1.33:1 full-frame, and the results are not very good. Despite being around ten years of age, the film looks noticably worn, with a good deal of specks, marks and dirt being visible throughout. Grain is understandable (although it gets heavy at times, too), given the elements and low budget, but the amount of wear present seemed like more than one would reasonably expect.
Sharpness and detail were just average, as the picture often appeared soft, but could look more reasonable at times. Mild pixelation appeared in some scenes and while edge enhancement was not a problem for most of the movie, it appeared to a distracting degree in a few moments. Colors generally looked natural, although not particularly vibrant or noteworthy in any way.
SOUND: The 2.0 audio fares somewhat better. Dialogue and brief music clips both sound clear and cleanly recorded.
EXTRAS: Just a brief introduction from filmmakers D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus. Given Criterion's work with titles from Pennebaker, maybe this one can be a future candidate for improved video and extras treatment.
Final Thoughts: This 1993 Best Documentary nominee takes a compelling and entertaining look behind-the-scenes of Clinton's presential campaign. Unfortunately, I would have liked more from the DVD. I'm sure there were some deleted scenes and the filmmakers could probably have provided a very good commentary. Beyond the lackluster supplemental area, the picture quality is also not particularly pleasing, even considering the film's budget. It's a good film, but the DVD is more of a rental.
The Film *** 1/2