Lawrence O'Toole
May 20, 1994 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The War Room

Current Status
In Season
D.A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus
R.J. Cutler
October Films

We gave it an A-

It’s a year and a half after the 1992 presidential elections, and The War Room already seems like a time capsule. Compulsively watchable, this documentary by D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus illuminates how, during America’s most crucial ritual, a President is not so much elected as made. The film focuses on Bill Clinton’s campaign manager, James Carville, and press rep, George Stephanopoulos, a fascinating and amusing duo: Carville the cheerleader with passion and righteous indignation, Stephanopoulos the den mother with likable cool. As they cope with obstacles as disparate as Ross Perot and Gennifer Flowers, the two embody the yin and yang of American politics.

Actor Robert Downey Jr.’s personal look at the elections, The Last Party, is a less focused and less well-crafted account. There is actorish navel-gazing and self-congratulation, but what does emerge from Downey’s various interviews (with Guardian Angels leader Curtis Sliwa, Spike Lee, Patti Davis, and Wall Street yuppies, among others) is a portrait of America as a large dysfunctional family, with some of its members in recovery. The films can be viewed as companion pieces: The War Room, a sober, measured telling; and The Last Party, the loose and scrappy version. The War Room: A-; The Last Party: B-

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