Once again, the box office treated the newest Kendrick Brothers movie, War Room, kindly, making it the number one movie over Labor Day weekend. The critics, however, were less kind. One film critic went so far as to say, “It may not be as brazenly offensive as God’s Not Dead … it’s still awful, offering all the forced humor and superficial substance of a half-baked homily.”
Even friendly fire has come from Christians who are nit-picking the particulars and people of the movie.
I will leave it up to the theologians and more learned to speak to the doctrinal nit-pickers. Here is a wish to offer a defense, or rather a praise, of War Room and other Christian movies like it to the critics of the world (Note: for a plot-specific review of War Room, I suggest this piece by Chris Doyle).
Why critics don’t like it
Movie critics are weekly consumers of what Hollywood produces and that tends to lean toward a worldly, or at least Hollywood-informed, worldview. Because of this, it makes it hard for critics to appreciate the genre of Christian/Faith movies.
C.S. Lewis insisted that “critics who despise a certain genre should not judge works in that genre. Only a critic who reads, say, science fiction novels with pleasure and who understands and appreciates the conventions of such novels can say with any authority when a certain author has used these conventions effectively.” These words from Lewis, as paraphrased by Professor Louis Markos, underscore the point.
Markos says someone who does not appreciate, for example, children’s literature may discount Alice in Wonderland because “the characters are so two-dimensional.” What they are missing, however, is that in that particular genre, “Alice” is supposed to be two-dimensional as a stock character in that genre.
So unless critics appreciate the Christian movie genre as a whole (with all its flaws and shortcomings), they will not like any of them.
Christian movies are like Chick-fil-A, not a world-famous French restaurant
Even when critics are being sympathetic, their expectations are all wrong. By way of analogy, they act like they are going to review a meal at a fine, French restaurant, when it is more accurate to say they are going to Chick-fil-A. The meal will be tasty, satisfying and the people who deliver it, kind as can be. Most Christian movies are effective at sending a message, even if they fall short in other areas. So critics need to know what they are walking into.
When the Kendrick Brothers went to make War Room, they had different goals than when Steven Spielberg went to make War Horse. The audience and critics alike must understand that while each of these is a drama, each one had a different aim in mind.
The Roman writer Plutarch, in his Parallel Lives of Romans and Greeks, was reported to say, “When Cicero spoke, people said ‘My how well he spoke.’ When Demosthenes spoke, people said ‘Let us march!’”
With War Horse, critics said, “my how well done it was.” With War Room, people are responding in prayer, and that was the goal.
Christian movies can be “cheezy,” but…
Detractors call them cheezy or schlocky. What they mean is that the ordinary Christian-made movie does not have the same quality or depth others do. To be sure, many, if not most, Christian-made movies have cheezy aspects. At the same time, isn’t that how real life is? How really real is it for people always to be saying the right thing at the right time? How realistic is it that two perfect-looking people come together in romance? While the look and feel of Hollywood movies may seem more life-like, in reality, the subtext and the takeaway messages are usually far more fake.
The quality can be lacking, so shore it up
There’s no shortage of bad acting. Looking at the Kendrick Brothers movies, from Flywheel to Fireproof, from Courageous to War Room, there has been a marked improvement in the quality and acting. Just because they are on a low budget, Christian movie makers must never skip steps when it comes to quality. Movies with professional actors are always going to do better than amateur ones, and the Christian movie makers who recognize this an embrace it will be the strongest foot forward.
We need movies by Christians, not just Christian movies
I have argued that Christian movies are a genre to themselves. At the same time, with movies like War Room and others bringing in big money, they are playing with the big boys and must act that way. Therefore, Christians who are making Christian movies should focus on quality over quantity.
Even while I wish for the success of Christian movies, I realize that every bit as much as we need more movies by Christians. In other words, we need more Christians in the movie-making industry. While not every movie will have a Gospel presentation or fall into the Christian movie genre, each one can point people to Jesus and/or the world He has made.
In the end, it is the Lord God, not a film critic, who will get to make the final judgment on movies, movie-makers, and each one of us. Knowing that, the philosopher Aristotle was reported to say, “There is nothing more telling about someone than what they find entertaining.” What movies do you like?