on July 13, 2004
"The War Room" is an interesting documentary that shows you just exactly what goes on behind the scenes of a presidential campaign and all of the problems that can arise. Mostly centered around the Clinton campaign, we get a look at a man who is determined to be the next President of the United States. James Carville and George Stephanopoulos are the main brains behind the campaign, and they show it with their rapid thinking and reactions. The road to the White House proves to be a bumpy one for Clinton and company, as scandals surface and tabloid articles flood the newsstands. The people behind the campaign of Bill Clinton never get a break as they always have to be on their toes and figure out damage control. Even though you know how it all ends, it is still a tense and shocking film.
What I love the most about this documentary is that there is no overall narrator, and there really isn't an agenda to it. The film doesn't force-feed you a likable Clinton. The film's real purpose is to show you what happens during these campaigns. Even though it's centered around Clinton, this film really could've been about anyone. The film doesn't sugarcoat anything as it gives you the raw footage and shows you how both sides can play dirty. It was amazing to watch Carville and Stephanopoulos work the way they did, as I had no idea how much of an important role they played in Clinton's campaign.
I think this documentary can be enjoyed by anyone who is interested in how the system works. You really don't even have to like Clinton in order to enjoy it, as the film isn't trying to make it look like Clinton is a saint or anything like that. It is about how dirty people in these campaigns can fight, and it occurs on both sides. And since there is no overall narrator, there is really nothing in here that tells you that you should feel a certain way about it all. The DVD contains no special features, which is a shame.
I really enjoyed "The War Room," and I'm not a real big fan of politics. I think it presents an interesting look at what goes on behind the scenes. If you're looking for an entertaining documentary that is funny and tense, then this is definitely something you should consider checking out. A big triumph on all fronts, if you want my honest opinion. -Michael Crane
on July 5, 2004
I happened to catch this documentary as I was reading "My Life" by Bill Clinton, it brought to life all of the hustle and bustle of his first Presidental campaign.
The real people involved in Clinton's first campaign for President are better characters than most actors. James Carville and George Stephanopoulos are the main focus of this film and they are true heroes. Clinton has moments where he shows all of his Southern charm but the real workhorses are Carville and Stephanopoulos who brave polls, reporters and other anti-Clinton politicians. It is an insiders view on how a campaign is won or lost behind the scenes just as easily as in front of all America. But is does make you question if the person who ends up in office is all they are cracked up to be or just a puppet pulled by the strings attached to his campaign managers.
A great film to watch if you love politics or if you are reading Bill Clinton's book. It gives an honest representation of how the wheels spin and the tides change at a moments notice. This film will convince you that political campaigns are calculated almost as professionally as a war and can take on the same persona.
on February 10, 2004
The War Room is a documentary of the 1992 Clinton Presidential Campaign, beginning with the New Hampshire primary and ending on election night. Filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus have full access to all of the players, including Governor Clinton himself. But this film focuses very little on Clinton, spending the most time with James Carville, whose immense energy level propells this film from beginning to end. Other players are featured as well, including George Stepahopoulos, Paul Begala, Mary Matalin, and DeeDee Myers, among others.
This is a great documentary, and a must for students of political and election strategy. It shows how talented pros deal with polls, the press, schedules, scandals, and downtime. And it contains some golden moments, including a hilarious argument about posters at the convention, a tongue-in-cheek concession speech, and a speech by Carville to volunteers once the election was won. All told, The War Room is a pleasure to watch, and will serve as an important snapshot of political electioneering at the end of the 20th century.
on September 22, 2003
"The War Room" is a must-see for anyone interested in politics. Although Clinton campaign operative James Carville admits, "We changed the way campaigns are run," this historic documentary of modern-day politics is just a small glimpse into the inner workings of the Clinton-for-President Campaign in 1992.
After viewing the film, I asked, "Is that all there is?" (to win a presidential campaign). But in all honesty, I laughed, cried and cheered as I watched the film, enjoying every minute, except the end where I wanted to see a close up of the Clintons and Gores as they celebrated their election night victory from the statehouse stage in Little Rock. The end of the film seemed anti-climatic. No hype. No hoopla. And, that's where I expected the "big bang" -- news reports, TV election returns, headlines the morning after and lots and lots of partying to Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop (Thinkin' About Tomorrow)."
While I appreciated being a fly on the wall inside campaign headquarters and on the road, at times I felt like I was watching a high school or college student government campaign -- with all the joking and silliness that pervaded "The War Room." Much of the campaign "work" didn't really look like work on film because of campaign staffers' attitudes and antics. They seemed to really have fun working on the campaign -- with many key staffers treating it as a game, albeit a game with very high stakes.
Only near the end of the film do director of communications George Stephanopoulos and master manipulator James Carville seem to grasp what they've accomplished. "We helped changed America!"
But seldom is seen or heard the National Democratic Party hierarchy -- the fund-raisers, the state committee chairmen, the state campaign directors, the local party leaders, the thousands of volunteers needed to help make a national campaign a success. Only at a few campaign events -- and, eventually at the Democratic National Convention, do viewers of "The War Room" see the magnitude of this campaign. But instead of debating national policy or issues, the Clinton campaign staff is concerned with how TV networks will depict the convention crowd. "Do we make hand-lettered signs or use printed signs?" someone asks in a staff meeting the night before Clinton is nominated.
I wondered during the national convention segment of "The War Room" if Bill Clinton had a running mate. How nice it would have been to see the inner workings of the selection process for choosing Al Gore as vice president. Thankfully, Gore was not totally excluded from the picture. His dynamic stump speech, "Up is down, down is up ..." was absolutely awesome, making me wish I had been an active participant of the 1992, 1996 and 2000 presidential campaigns.
Another memorable speech from "The War Room" is President Bush's whiny "I'm damn tired" speech. Never have I seen or heard President Bush so angry. Little good his anger did him or the country. While Bush was getting angry, Clinton was getting votes -- campaigning across the country with thousands of smiles and handshakes. How rewarding it was to see candidate Clinton go from a small campaign plane to a huge jet (similar to Air Force One), after earning his party's nomination and respect.
"The War Room" reminded me how indecisive and devisive candidates Ross Perot and Jerry Brown were in 1992. While Clinton's presidency may not have been appreciated by everyone, it's still frightening for me to think how close we came to having Perot or Brown elected president in '92.
If there are any negatives about "The War Room" it's that the film doesn't really spotlight Clinton's superior campaign skills, including his charisma and intellect. Clinton knows how to connect with people and he has an uncanny ability to know what people want.
Clinton is a master politician -- and, in 1992, his dream team of campaign strategists and media handlers molded a campaign that was unbeatable, changing the course of history.
"The War Room" shows how effective Carville and Stephanopoulos were more than a decade ago, functioning as political and media strategists at the top of their game. But candidate Clinton is only occasionally featured in the film, with wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea shown a few times here and there. I would have liked to have seen more of the Clintons behind the scenes on the campaign trail and in strategy sessions.
George Stephanopoulos' "All Too Human -- A Political Education," a 456-page memoir published in 1999, is a highly recommended read for anyone wanting more details on Clinton's campaigns and presidency -- a real insider's view.
The gritty realism of the day-to-day operation of campaign headquarters in Little Rock coupled with Carville and Stephanopoulos' comments every step of the way made the "you-are-there" feeling of "The War Room" very real and very personal. I particularly enjoyed the opening hotel room sequence featuring an extreme close-up of Gov. Clinton conducting a media interview by telephone, as campaign staffers read newspapers nearby.
The counter media attacks waged by the Clinton campaign created numerous interesting segments in the film. I especially enjoyed seeing Carville and Stephanopoulos deal with the issue of Clinton's character -- dodging the draft and dodging allegations of a 12-year affair with Gennifer Flowers. Seeing Flowers as the scorned woman conducting her own news conference for the national media (much more than sound bites), accompanied by a media handler shouting down a heckler who asked if Gov. Clinton used a condom, is both fascinating and unreal.
"How'd he do that?" one might ask after considering all the obstacles that Clinton overcame to be elected president of the U.S. twice. "The War Room" is a good place to start to learn how "Slick Willie" survived media battles every day of his campaign and presidency.
I highly recommend "The War Room" as a wonderful way to begin to understand Clinton's magic and mystique.
on April 8, 2004
If you enjoy the political process, you MUST see this documentary. As you know, it is an insider's look at the Clinton campaign in 1992.
You are a fly on the wall as the film especially focuses on the work of James Carville and George Stephanapolous.
It's compelling and occasionally funny. Even more interesting, Al Gore gives one hell of a speech, and I never thought of him as an orator.
on March 29, 2002
One of my all time favorite documentaries, The War Room depicts the behind the scene machinations of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. The documentary was originally supposed to be about the romance between chief Clinton strategist, James ( the "Ragin' Cajun") Carville, and Marlee Matilin, who, at the time, was a chief advisor to the George Bush campaign. But documentaries, like politics, have a way of taking on a life of their own, and The War Room turned into a cinema verité examination of a presidential election at work, through the eyes of the master, Carville, and George Stephanopoulos, Clinton's press secretary, with whom the audience identifies, idealist that he is.
The War Room gives one an opportunity to see up close the salesmanship, competitiveness, sincerity, frustration, and the unrelenting pace of king-making in politics. Carville and Stephanopoulos' work is exhilarating and exhausting. They are men of conviction, and have the battle-scars to prove it. As we watch the Convention showmanship, the strategies, the debates, and the cabin-fever come election day, we find ourselves knuckling down with our two guides and crossing our fingers as the results come in.
Hegedus and Pennebaker do a remarkable job of making the audience feel part and parcel of the Clinton campaign. Even more impressive, election strategy successes and failures come across as well. We see the Clinton strategists impressive "quick-response" system in action, as they do battle with the media over the Gennifer Flowers nightmare, and we see what at first seems to be a promising lead on the Bush campaign financing their sign-printing with foreign laborers fall off the nightly
Nobility and venality can coexist in the most talented and altruistic of people, but cannot be painlessly reconciled in the eyes of those who follow and admire them. This is a lesson lightly touched on by The War Room, and beaten over our heads by eight years that followed.
The War Room was an Academy Award nominee in the category of "Best Documentary."
on June 19, 2001
One can certainly take issue with the merits of the candidate Carville and Stephanopolous supported (and I do), but there is no denying the immense skill with which Clinton's '92 campaign was run. Watching Pennebaker and Hegedus' work, I was reminded of how difficult it was to be a Republican in 1992 (there would be better days to come). The War Room not only made it crystal clear why to me why, but reliving that campaign through the eyes of the opposition really reminded me of what it takes to win a campaign. The War Room captures both the thrill of the campaign (doesn't matter who's winning) and its intricacies. A segment from the Democratic Convention pits Harold Ickes against an operative who argues for distributing thousands of handpainted signs versus pre-printed blue placards is a hilarious reminder of what it's really like in the smoke-filled room.
Democrats will see this film to relive the moment of their greatest glory this side of JFK. Republicans need to see it for a more important reason: know your enemies.
on October 2, 2000
Perhaps I was looking for something that wasn't advertised, but I didn't find The War Room to be a particularly revealing look at Clinton's 1992 campaign. The advertised thrust that they changed the way campaigns were won is lost because the movie provides no point of reference to other ways to run a campaign.
It's pretty obvious that Carville is aware of the camera (though Stephanopolous seems more genuine) and the only time we get a real insider's look at the campaign is when they discover that Bush campaign materials were being printed in Brazil and attempt to orchestrate network coverage. That's what I was looking for in The War Room and it dissipates as quickly as it materializes. Carville's performance, given to rants and explitives, shows either 1) he is a very enigmatic figure or 2) cultivating an image of being a very enigmatic figure. Someone that not only gets Clinton elected but re-elected simply cannot be that impulsive.
Finally, it ends too soon. Stephanopolous' enthusiasm at Clinton's election didn't make it through the Clinton administration, and this might suggest dissolutionment that would be very interesting juxtaposed with his enthusiasm on election night (maybe room for a sequel?)
In the end, The War Room ends up being voyeurism for political junkies without the experience to know what really goes on in a campaign and with insufficient context to answer the question posed: Why was Clinton/Gore 92 a different kind of campaign? It was, but The War Room doesn't tell us why it was.
on May 9, 2000
The War Room is an excellent documentary that takes the viewer behind the scenes of the Clinton 1992 campaign. This video shows more of the tactics, strategies and means of how the Clinton campaign operated. James Carville and George Stephanopolus truly were masterminds in orchestrating an excellent presidential campaign. This video should be viewed by any political science major, or individual who plans to go into political consulting. Then again, having just about any individual watch the video will educate the viewer about an important component and function of any election process - the campaign.
The War Room - a phrase which is ever so fitting and appropriate for Clinton's campaign operations - represents the concept of strategizing and winning.
It has a superb touch to it, in the respect that it not only shows the process of campaigning, but it also shows the feelings and the "human side" of the individuals involved.
on June 1, 2001
What gauled his 1992 Democratic rivals in the primaries, infuriated Ross Perot all summer long, belittled George Bush in the general election, and humiliated Bob Dole four years later, was Bill Clinton's seemingly effortless ability to out-campaign anybody. Say what you want about Clinton as President, as a campaigner he was absolutely invincible.
THE WAR ROOM turns part of that perception on its head: the '92 Clinton campaign was anything but effortless. From the get-go, Carville and Stephanopoulus are scrambling to stay ahead of the scandal-a-day strategy the GOP used.
Luckily for them, the Bush team focused on spinning rooms full of political reporters and forgot to campaign.
If I could change one thing about THE WAR ROOM it would be to have spent more time with Carville. The Rajin' Cajun may annoy his opponents to distraction, but the man can talk, and he's the most successful campaign strategist of our time.