We hear bits and pieces on the news about the civil wars and starvation in East Africa, but to most of us it hits our consciousness momentarily and then we continue on in our ordinary lives. Stories told on film are an excellent manner to bring this humanitarian crisis to the forefront. And sadly, not much about this situation has played at our local movie houses. Machine Gun Preacher is a new film directed by Marc Forster that tells one man’s story as he stopped being a casual observer and decided to personally contribute.
Machine Gun Preacher is a biopic that tells the story of Sam Childers (Gerard Butler). Childers was a biker and addict leading a life of prisons, drugs and violence. After returning home from prison, he finds that his wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan) has given up stripping for a more respectable job and has found Jesus. Sam finds difficulty with his wife’s new found life, and continues to lead his life that will ultimately end him back in prison or dead. But after an experience that shook Sam to the core, he was ready to give Jesus a try.
Sam’s new life enabled him to build a successful contracting business and eventually a church of his own, but he wanted more. He volunteered through his local church to donate time in East Africa. During this trip, Sam was troubled by the bloody civil war and the masses of children that were being slaughtered and left parentless. With the support of his wife, he decided to build an orphanage in Africa and provide just one safe place in a very unsafe world.
When Sam’s first orphanage was destroyed by the LRA, his wife told him “stop crying about it and build it again.” Sam did rebuild and this time he built a compound that had a chance of surviving. But Sam continued to want to do more. He would leave his compound with a few freedom fighters and battle the LRA himself to free more children. And what started out as a mission of humanitarianism became a way for Sam to wage his own war.
Machine Gun Preacher, perhaps the worst title of a film this year, is a mix of good and bad. The incredible good work that Sam has achieved to take care of helpless children is to be commended, but his own violent ways tend to overshadow his accomplishments. The war Sam rages in Africa is not much different than those he waged with drug dealers in his own home town. Yes, his desire to free children is important, but it’s his means to an end that is difficult to stomach.
The performances by Gerard Butler and Michelle Monaghan are excellent in every manner. Butler portrays a believable character and carries the film. Monaghan gives an understated performance as the wife that is committee to support her husband, family and the children she barely knows. Michael Shannon is also effective as Sam’s buddy from his using years and Madeline Carroll shines as the Childers’ daughter.
Machine Gun Preacher is just not effective enough to recommend it. The story of Sam’s work as a mercenary outweighs his good work and his violent solutions make this film difficult to watch.
Machine Gun Preacher is Rated R for violent content including disturbing images, language, some drug use and a scene of sexuality and has a runtime of 2 hours and 9 minutes.
Whatever your movie choice this week, please remember your movie theater etiquette: silence your cell phones & no texting, please don’t talk during the film and remove your children if they become a distraction to other audience members. Don’t forget that laughing, crying and cheering are always approved behavior and even encouraged.
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-Kay Shackleton is a film historian with special focus on Silent Films, see her work on SilentHollywood.com