It’s not easy to root for the ‘Machine Gun Preacher’

M 042 (Left to right.) Souley­mane Sy Savane “Deng” and Ger­ard But­ler “Sam Childers” save kid­napped chil­dren in the middle of ter­rit­ory con­trolled by the bru­tal Lord’s Res­ist­ance Army (LRA) in Re­lativ­ity Me­dia’s re­lease MA­CHINE GUN PREACH­ER.

At one point dur­ing Ma­chine Gun Preach­er, Sam Childers shows pic­tures of mu­til­ated, orphaned chil­dren in Africa to a banker friend he’s hit­ting up for a loan. The banker re­sponds that he knows what is go­ing on over there and does not need to see the pic­tures.

Those were my thoughts pre­cisely, and typ­ic­ally why I avoid those true-story-type-flicks about war in Third World coun­tries. The visu­al im­ages are just too graph­ic for me.

Ger­ard But­ler really sinks his teeth in­to play­ing Sam Childers, a real-life, self-pro­fessed “hill­billy from Pennsylvania” who loves guns and God.

As the title in­dic­ates, Ma­chine Gun Preach­er is heavy on both the guns and the preach­ing. The audi­ence learns that Sam wasn’t al­ways a preach­er; in fact, he was about as far away from God as one could get. We meet Sam just as he’s be­ing sprung from the big house. There’s a pretty lady wait­ing for him to have a quick romp in the car be­fore go­ing on their way.

We soon learn that wo­man is his wife Lynn (Michelle Mon­aghan), a former strip­per who found God while her hus­band was locked up. Sam is not quite ready to give up his wild biker-gang life­style and picks up where he left off, do­ing drugs and caus­ing may­hem with his buddy Don­nie (Mi­chael Shan­non). 

After one par­tic­u­larly wild night, Sam de­cides he is ready to make a change in his life. Next thing you know, he’s start­ing his own church and has been in­spired to use his con­struc­tion-work back­ground for good and vo­lun­teers to go with a group to the south­ern Su­dan and north­ern Uganda area of Africa.

After meet­ing Deng (Souley­mane Sy Savane) and learn­ing more about the vi­ol­ence that makes orphans of so many chil­dren in the re­gion, Sam de­cides to build an orphan­age, and he’s will­ing to do whatever it takes — in­clud­ing kill — to res­cue chil­dren in need.

I found Sam’s ded­ic­a­tion to the chil­dren ad­mir­able; as for his meth­ods not so much. He ba­sic­ally trades one ad­dic­tion (drugs) for an­oth­er (res­cuing Afric­an chil­dren). He also risks los­ing all he loves at home — his wife, his daugh­ter, his church, the con­struc­tion com­pany he built. It takes a unique per­son to put those things at risk for chil­dren thou­sands of miles away.

The prob­lem with the movie was that Sam’s not ne­ces­sar­ily a char­ac­ter I found my­self root­ing for. Ac­tu­ally, to tell you the truth, it of­ten seemed like he had a death wish, and it made him quite un­likable. The preach­ing scenes at his church were mostly awk­ward and could be off-put­ting to some.

Ma­chine Gun Preach­er doesn’t delve too much in­to the spe­cif­ics of what’s go­ing on in Su­dan, aside from men­tions of the bru­tal LRA (Lord’s Res­ist­ance Army) and its lead­er, Joseph Kony.

Dir­ect­or Marc For­ster gives the movie a gritty feel sim­il­ar to one of his pre­vi­ous films, Mon­ster’s Ball. For­ster and new­bie screen­writer Jason Keller both seemed to have over­looked the strange con­tinu­ity is­sue with Sam’s daugh­ter Paige sud­denly go­ing from ele­ment­ary- to high-school age with no in­dic­a­tion that any time had passed. Soap-op­era watch­ers (a dy­ing breed) like to call this phe­nomen­on SOR­AS—soap op­era rap­id aging syn­drome — when a young act­or or act­ress is re­cast in­to a much older char­ac­ter without any ex­plan­a­tion. 

Sam def­in­itely de­serves props for all he’s done and is still do­ing in Africa. I just don’t think this movie is the best way to re­cog­nize his ef­forts. ••

Movie Grade: C

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