The film follows James Carville and George Stephanopoulos at first during the New Hampshire Primary, and then mostly in Little Rock, Arkansas, at Clinton Campaign Headquarters. The film follows several key 1992 Campaign events, such as the Clinton Campaign's attack on "Read my lips: no new taxes", the Gennifer Flowers scandal, the New Hampshire primary upset, and others as they played out inside of the Clinton 1992 Campaign.
The documentary uses many media headlines from the day, including media coverage of the election and other news stories, such as Ross Perot's presidential exit and re-entrance, among other topics.
The primary characters portrayed in the film are:Bill Clinton, 1992 Presidential Candidate and 42nd Governor of Arkansas
George Stephanopoulos, 1992 Bill Clinton Communications Director
James Carville, 1992 Bill Clinton Lead Strategist
Though Stephanopoulos and Carville were the film's main figures, many other prominent figures in the campaign were featured, including Paul Begala, Dee Dee Myers, Mandy Grunwald, Bob Boorstin, Stan Greenberg, Mickey Kantor, Harold Ickes, and Bush deputy campaign manager Mary Matalin, who later married Carville. Clinton campaign manager David Wilhelm was extended an invitation to participate, but declined. Additionally, former White House Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama and Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel can be found in some of the War Room scenes as a Finance Director for the Clinton campaign. Also featured are Election rivals George H. W. Bush, Ross Perot and DNC rival Jerry Brown.
At the start of the 1992 Democratic primaries, filmmakers Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker requested permission from the Bill Clinton Campaign to film its progression. The Clinton Campaign agreed, and Pennebaker and Hegedus were allowed to film Communications Director George Stephanopoulos as well as Lead Strategist James Carville; they were given limited access to Bill Clinton.
At the start of filming, the film team was embedded with the Clinton Campaign in New Hampshire for that state's Democratic primary. During the onset of the campaign, the crew traveled around the state with the Bill Clinton Campaign.
After the surprise Clinton second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, the crew shot mostly in Little Rock, Arkansas, home to the Clinton campaign's national headquarters. As the film focused in on Carville and Stephanopoulos, the film crew saw no need to travel outside of Little Rock as both were present in the city for much if not all of the primary and general election campaigns.
Over a time span of four months filming, Pennebaker and Hegedus only shot about 35 hours of film.
In late April 2008, a clip from the film was released on YouTube, purporting to show former Clinton administration official (and supporter of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton) Mickey Kantor saying to Carville and Stephanopoulos, "Look at Indiana, wait, wait – look at Indiana. 42-40. It doesn’t matter if we win. Those people are shit. Excuse me." Another erroneous interpretation of the clip alleged that Kantor said, "How would you like to be a worthless white nigger?".
On May 2, 2008, Kantor claimed that the footage had been doctored, and shortly thereafter, D.A. Pennebaker claimed that Kantor had actually said "Those people must be shitting in the White House." The doctored footage and false allegations against Kantor were discussed in the Return of the War Room, a 2008 sequel.
As it was only screened at few locations, the film grossed $901,668 at the box office.
The film received near universal acclaim by critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 94% "fresh" rating.66th Academy Awards
Nominated for Best Documentary (1994)
National Board of Review of Motion Pictures
Won Special Recognition in Filmmaking (1996)
Won Award for Best Documentary (1993)
The film was released as a special edition DVD and Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection on March 20, 2012. Previously, the film was first released onto DVD in 1999 by Trimark Home Video as a bare bones and pan & scan release, and by Focus Features and Universal Studios as a special edition DVD in 2004.
According to an article in the Brisbane Times, George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, and the cast of The Ides of March watched The War Room to "get their bearings" on their characters and life on the campaign trail.
The documentary was spoofed by IFC series Documentary Now!, in the second season episode "The Bunker."