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