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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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