The man makes the movie, but the movie doesn’t quite make the man.
Machine Gun Preacher will stay with you. It’s not particularly well acted, nor is the screenplay Sorkin–level, but this film has a story. Sometimes, in order to succeed, the story is what matters most.
Sam Childers (Butler) has spent his life as a junkie and dealer with few prospects of anything beyond an early death. After a stint in prison, he returns to his Philadelphia hometown and his newly religious, ex–stripper wife (Monaghan). One particularly violent run–in causes Childers to renounce his lifestyle and become a Christian — an act that, in his mind, sets a precedent for all those like him who don’t think second chances exist.
His story truly begins when he takes a mission to Uganda and ends up in the midst of the Sudanese genocide. Childers is so affected by the horrors of the region — the child soldiers, the midnight massacres — that he devotes himself to building an orphanage and safe haven in Sudan, in addition to maintaing his church at home.
This is a biopic unlike those to come out in the pre–Oscar season. It quite simply presents the story of one man who found God and decided to reconcile his old life with his new values.
Gerard Butler puts forth a solid effort in portraying Childers; his usually pervasive Scottish accent is notably muted, and he convincingly looks like a rode–hard biker. It doesn’t matter too much, though; his delivery of the lines takes a backseat to the lines themselves, or, more accurately, the story they convey.
Director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) puts forth a solid effort in showing the struggles of the Sudanese and the brutality of Childers’ transformation. Particularly interesting is the juxtaposition of Childers’ junkie friend at home (Shannon) and the hardships of the children in Africa. The back–to–back shots justify Childers’ religious identity more than any lines of dialogue could.
Machine Gun Preacher is worth seeing if only to experience a character unlike any other in recent memory. Sam Childers will tell you himself: he’s the most messed up preacher you’ll ever meet. And we like it that way.
Directed by: Marc Forster
Starring: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon
See if you liked: Hotel Rwanda