Director Marc Forster’s drama “Machine Gun Preacher” powerfully portrays the heart of the ultimate spiritual struggle – even if writer Jason Keller’s screenplay is a bit weak around the edges.
Granted, the personal transformations that occur in “Machine Gun Preacher” – which is based on the true tale of a drug-dealing biker who finds God and becomes a crusader for hundreds of Sudanese children – are a bit unfounded and abrupt. However, its authentic account of faith’s inherent challenges and a well-rounded performance from star Gerard Butler more than make up for the movie’s shortcomings.
Butler plays Sam Childers, an ex-con who makes the life-changing decision to go to East Africa to help repair homes destroyed by civil war only to become outraged by the unspeakable horrors faced by the region’s vulnerable populace – especially the children. Ignoring the warnings of more experienced aide workers, Sam breaks ground for an orphanage.
However, said ground is in the middle of territory controlled by the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army – a renegade militia that forces youngsters to become soldiers before they even reach their teens. Determined to save as many as possible, he leads armed missions deep into enemy territory to retrieve kidnapped children, restoring peace to their lives as well as his own.
While this piece of Childers’s mission on which Keller chooses to focus is undoubtedly the one that feels most cinematic, one might wish that the screenwriter had balanced it out a bit more with the work that the man did right here in America, building a church for men and women who – like himself – considered their sins to be too horrible for God’s forgiveness.
At least that is the part of Childers’s story lightly touched upon in “Machine Gun Preacher” that resonated most with this critic. On the other hand, the scenes set in the Sudan are nothing short of eye-opening and emotionally unsettling thereby graphically illustrating the intense spiritual struggle that occurs within our protagonist. It is something with which we can all identify – albeit on far more personal levels.
Forster uses “Machine Gun Preacher” to demonstrate that as hard as life is, faith is even harder. However, the director also demonstrates that said faith is essential to our survival. And this project solidifies that better than any of the many Christian-based projects released this year – especially thanks to a powerful performance by Butler.
The only downside is that in spite of the movie’s runtime that extends past the 2-hour mark, the development of Childers’s character feels rushed and more or less summarized, skipping over key moments in his life that motivated his choices. Keller could have tightened it all up a bit and still found a way to give reason to the man’s metamorphoses.
“Machine Gun Preacher” (R – 127 minutes) opens Friday exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5. Visit FirstLook.com for specific showtimes.
Listen to Joseph J. Airdo’s “Movie Maverick” radio segment, every Friday morning at 8:30 a.m. during “The Daily Blender with Jeffry O’Brien” on KBSZ – NBC 1260 AM and 96.1 FM.