Your weekly streaming recommendation: The War Room
It’s June, which means we’re in the heart of summer blockbuster season — and you might already be tired of superheroes, giant monsters, and mind-numbing explosions. Fortunately, video-on-demand presents no shortage of alternatives. 2014 happens to be the 30th anniversary of the Criterion Collection, which aims to father “the greatest films from around the world.” All month, we’ll be counting down a few of their strong offerings currently available to stream on Hulu. This week: the fast-paced, Oscar-nominated political documentary The War Room.
There are some people who argue that a piece of art gets better when you impose limitations on it. A poem, written in meter, forces the writer to be more creative with their word choice than they would need to be in free verse. An artist with a limited palate is forced to explore the complexity of a a few color.
By that same logic: When a filmmaker has $165 million dollars and more than a month to shoot, you get a bloated behemoth like the latest Transformers movie. When a filmmaker has no money, two cameras and limited access to their subject, you get a tight, focused documentary like The War Room.
In 1992, D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus set out to follow Bill Clinton through the Democratic primaries to Election Day, which marked the end of his (ultimately successful) bid for the presidency. It’s a format Pennebaker had already explored with great success in 1960, when he followed the Kennedy and Humphrey campaigns in Primary.
The only problem: Pennebaker and Hegedus had minimal time with Bill Clinton, and no access whatsoever to his campaign manager. Under those constraints, Pennebaker and Hegedus turned their lenses to two unexpected but fascinating subjects: communications director George Stephanopoulos and chief strategist James Carville.
Stephanopoulos and Carville turn out to be the perfect narrators for the documentary, offering an unprecedented and honest perspective on the nuts and bolts of a modern presidential campaigns. They’re the leaders of the ground troops of the Clinton campaign, processing and repackaging the daily news as they guide their candidate towards his victory. Regardless of your political affiliation, The War Room will make you consider the high-stakes gamesmanship of a high-profile election — what it takes to win, and whoreally deserves credit for the person who ends up in the White House.
A final note: If you’re in the mood for a double feature, The War Room would make a fascinating counterpoint to Mitt, the documentary about the Romney campaign that premiered on Netflix earlier this year. The War Room chronicles a successful Democratic presidential campaign while spending almost no time with the actual candidate; Mitt chronicles a failed Republican presidential campaign while spending time almost exclusively with the actual candidate. Taken together, they paint a fascinating picture of the ways in which the campaign trail has changed over the past 20 years.