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So the ‘Machine Gun Preacher, based on the true story of Sam Childers, a reformed gang member, drug dealing redneck addict who found God and then set up a Christian Ministry in North Dakota and then an orphanage in war torn South Sedan, rescuing kids from the Civil War. He would venture into areas of the country brutally controlled by warlord Joseph Kony of the LRA (the Lords Resistance Army), and with the backing of the SPLA (Sedan Peoples Liberation Army) would run regular armed sorties to round up kids in the occupied areas and bring them to safety. If the kids didn’t want to fight for Kony every second one would have their hand cut off so they couldn’t fight for anyone else.
Director Marc Foster (Monsters Ball, Stranger Then Fiction, Finding Neverland, Quantum of Solace and World War Z) got the job to present his life as a movie and, not surprisingly, concentrated more on the action than an intriguing and emotional story that probably lies beneath the dusty African surface. I’m sure he wanted to go there but when you cast Gerard Butler with a machine gun you can forget it. That ambiguity over what film to make killed it stone dead, the $30 million dollar mid budget movie scraping back an apathetic $3.3 million. I suspect most were expecting a preacher with a machine gun, but Hobo with a Shotgun exploitation style.
Childers (Gerard Butler) is a scumbag low life biker who robs, steals and fights his way to what ever he wants. His stripper wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan) and daughter Paige (Madeline Carroll) go along with it and no when to hide from his moods. After nearly killing someone after losing it he finds God, persuaded by his born again wife, the two attending church together in their Sunday best.
Inspired by the evangelic style preaching he decides to build his own church, pulling in decent crowds and so donations. A visiting preacher inspires him to work in the African missions, where he witnesses terrible things in South Sedan when travelling up country. Lots of young children are forced to fight and hundreds of thousands of orphans out there. Inspired again why not build his own mission there, his wife fully supportive and the God fearing Childers the right man for the job.
There he befriends Deng (Souléymane Sy Savané) of the SPLA, who helps him with his project. But the leader of the LRA is not happy and orders that the mission be burnt down, which it is. But Childers and the handful of SLA guys do enough to repel the attack, killing most of the rebels, soon rebuilding the church and schools and now known as the white preacher with the machine gun.
As I said earlier, with an exploitation-friendly title like Machine Gun Preacher you'd think this movie would be the soul brother of Hobo With A Shotgun. Unfortunately, that is not so, the 1970s exploitation movie the far better option in hindsight. This just doesn’t quite work, half TV movie, half action movie, very little about the mindset of what clearly is an interesting character. I think a documentary would have been the better option here than Gerard Butler running around with guns and grimaces. They have actually just made the documentary and that may shed some light on Childers. The story and reasons for Childers transformation are lost in a hail of bullets here. While we admire Childers for his bravery and self-sacrifice, we don't fully understand him or his crusade and sacrifice by the end of the movie. Did he go out there to help the kids or more about legally killing guys on his new gang’s terms, a more honorable way to distribute his intrinsic anger?
The cast are too good-looking for what it is and Butler way too hunky as the rough around the edges 5, 7 inch Childers. The small amount of actual footage of Childers in Africa as the credits role are far more revealing than most of the movie. Because it ends up a reasonably dumb action affair to play to the masses the critics panned it. But the audience enjoyed it, earning a surprising 67% approval rating on Rottentomatoes.com and IMDB, double that of the critics. I am more with the critics on this one. It’s bungled; the way Foster messed up Quantum of Solace.
On the while it’s a film that ended up a concept movie and with Butler in their just too distracting so to matter in the movie hall of fame. Both Sam and Lynn were no doubt very happy with the casting of Butler and Michelle Monaghan to play them but that over glosses a rough life. The dialogue is as clunky as the chains that hold the child slaves and the politics of this civil war as two dimensional as the back characters in the film. This was very much the standard director model of applying hunky Hollywood star to script with attractive Hollywood wife and hope you get to turn a small profit to keep your full salary as you know the script is poor and the idea lost. I await the documentary to find the real story of Sam Childers.
I'll admit, it was the title that drew me to this film; without even looking at the blurb I was interested. I quite like Gerard Butler, even though I'm dubious about some of his films! I wasn't quite sure, therefore, what to expect, but what I got wasn't it. This was surprisingly good, even if it didn't seem to start off that way.
Machine Gun Preacher was directed by Marc Forster who has worked on several films, including direction for Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland, so his experience was able to shine through in this. We're introduced to Sam Childers (Butler) a tough drug-dealing biker, or so he likes to think of himself at least. As his life gets murkier and his dealing dodgier, his wife, Lynn (Michelle Monaghan), is none too pleased. Leaving a very modest life despite his drug dealing, it seems to be far from the perfect family environment. She finds strength in God and tries to encourage Sam to do the same, but he's just not buying it.
That is, until something nasty happens. Unsure of himself and his actions, Sam starts to hit rock bottom. Cue God and a turn of conscience. Gradually at first and then with quick momentum, Sam changes his life around and dedicates time to God, to church and to a new mission. He paves himself a new path and is suddenly determined to become a crusader in East Africa. At first, he goes to aid the repairing of homes brought to ruin by the civil war, but he's unfulfilled by how little he seems to be doing in the grand scheme of things.
Seeing how awful the situation truly is, the atrocities going on, the hundreds of children suffering or being forced to become mini soldiers, Sam's dream gets bigger. He sets out to build an orphanage over there, despite just how huge and dangerous this task is. I won't say any more on the plot except that the rest of the film basically follows his work, his struggles, the events that unfold in Africa around him and the aftermath of his home life when he does return.
This seemed to start of very cheesy, with Butler looking like an idiot in leathers rather than a hardened drug-dealing biker dude. His role seemed quite cliché and not very believable because, as my boyfriend put it, he looked 'gay not tough'. However, when things started to change and he turned towards God, the characterisation took a turn for the better. We see a change in the tone of the film, in the acting and the overall emotive content.
What I loved about this film was its realism when it came to Africa. The scenes were very well choreographed and all felt like good quality; it was obvious time and money was invested in to the scenes, acting and effects with lots of action thrown in to the mix, machine guns included. It was explosive, harrowing and hard-hitting, far from what I thought we might get from the first opening scenes with Sam playing Mr Tough Guy. The atmosphere was built very well, the emotion was palpable and the believability of the scenes made it gripping to watch. The acting was also fairly good on all fronts, from the children to the other adults and the protagonist, played by Butler. He's a nice bit of 'eye candy' but I had to give him credit for his role in this as he help to make the film what it was.
By the end of the film, as much as I hate to admit it, I felt quite emotional. The secret will remain between my boyfriend and I, and you, that I cried. I never cry at films, and yet this really struck a chord with me. The scenes in Africa were brutal but realistic and it really made me think. It made me sad, angry, horrified and all of these things, in my opinion, are a sign of a good film.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this for a thought-provoking film that's full of both action and emotion. It surprised me both in terms of how good it was, and the content. It should keep action fans well entertained and engrossed, but have some tissues ready.
DVD released 2012, rated Certificate 12
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