Machine Gun Preacher Directed by: Marc Forster Cast: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon Running Time: 2 hrs and 7 mins Rating: R Release Date: September 30, 2011
PLOT: The story of Sam Childers (Butler), a former drug-dealing biker tough guy who found God and became a crusader for hundreds of Sudanese children who've been forced to become soldiers.
WHO'S IT FOR?: If you like learning about real and incredible human beings, Machine Gun Preacher will be a good introduction to the wonder of Sam Childers, but it won't feel like it does the man justice. If you like guns, motorcycles, killing bad people and buildin' churches, this movie might be for you.
In Machine Gun Preacher, Gerard Butler plays Sam Childers, a real life badass with more heroism to his name than any character Butler’s ever played before.
Disappointingly, Butler is here because he can shoot a gun, ride a motorcycle, and simply look tough. Whether he can do it without being laughable is another story. It’s a nice bonus that he can earnestly throw himself into a couple dramatic scenes, as he does here. A couple of scenes in which he preaches at his church are the moments when Butler’s appearance feels more than ultimately just a way for the producers to heighten their ticket sales. An impassioned and angry barking about “wolves” is a stand out moment for him. In bizarro bad movie world, it would be in his Oscar reel. Here, it’s just one piece of real meat in a junky sandwich of cheese and crap.
Of course, we can’t blame Butler for the ridiculous way in which Childers’ heroism is handled. Even though this movie is based on a real person, he’s got the same action timing of Rambo, and also the same killing potential to boot. When a peacekeeping female aid worker is harmed by a group of armed thugs, Childers just shows up, bazooka on his shoulder, scowl on his face, and blows the bad guys away. No explanation as to where he came from, he’s just there.
Also more similar to action movie heroes more than those in real life, we never see him get hit by a bullet or wounded in any manner. Instead of Rambo’s line like “Killing’s as easy as breathing,” we get Childers saying, “I’m a hillbilly,” and “I just like my guns.” Childers has a couple of crying moments in the movie, after a violent event, but their message is redundant –it’s sad when children are not able to escape the violence that is crumbling their surroundings.
While the action of the movie falls apart to ridiculousness, so collapses the movie’s “preacher” element. Even though the idea that Childers would also run a church back home during his time in Africa is incredible, it’s a grossly underdeveloped aspect of his life throughout this entire movie. The progression of his church is hardly explained – where do all these new members come from? Are they leaving the churches they were at before?
Other undeveloped yet important aspects involve Childers’ family. While Childers claims his mother was such a big influence on his religiousness, we hardly get to know her, or her background. With the lack of focus on his church and his influence, it’s clear that “machine gun” is the element that this movie is concerned with from its title, as opposed to “preacher.”
And what does Machine Gun Preacher say itself? I’m not so sure. It feels pretty hypocritical in its presentation of white America caring for a faraway cause in Africa. In one scene, Childers is shown being insulted that a rich car salesman only gives him one hundred bucks as a donation for Sudan supplies.
In a scene long before it, Childers is being coached by his wife to not give up on his Sudan cause, even though his original building had been burned down. But Childers is in the middle of an African hell during this scene – and his wife is comfortably chatting on her cellphone at a mega supermarket, surrounded by aisles and shelves of food. She’s completely detached from the actual horror – what right does she have to boss him around like that? Is Machine Gun Preacher being supportive of this moment, or showing how hypocritical her attitude is? Either way, it looks foolish.
Such a poor juggling of the events of Childers’ life makes this whole movie feel pretty slow. It never feels like this movie’s going to reach an ending point. When it does, we’re at least rewarded with something we should have seen all along – real footage of Sam Childers.
Machine Gun Preacher stinks at making its true yet incredible events feel believable. It turns a remarkable true story into a silly Hollywood movie – a documentary would have done better justice to its hero’s true badass history.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10