Review by Kristen Ficara A Kougar Perspective
Machine Gun Preacher is proof that an amazing story does not guarantee an amazing movie. I truly regret saying that, because this story is certainly worth telling.
Sam Childers (Butler) is a hardened-biker-gang-banging-heroine-shooting-ex-con who has no idea how to treat his wife and family. He is the epitome of trash with absolutely no redeeming qualities. The first forty minutes of the movie is nothing more than a laundry list of his transgressions: I was in jail, I got out of jail, I am full of anger, almost beat my wife, I ignore my daughter, shoot up heroine in a bathroom…I did this and then I did that and then I did this and then I did that. I have never seen murder, drugs and mayhem shown in a more uncompelling way.
Then, suddenly he is being baptized in a church. No arch, no struggle, no internal battle. From Satan to Jesus in one scene. Totally unbelievable. Extremely frustrating because this is a true story! Believability is a given! The one thing the filmmakers didn’t have to work for! Now yes, the laundry list of events tells us violently stabbing someone brought Childers to God (along with some nudging from his wife Lynn (Monaghan), but since we never experience his transformation we simply have to take their word for it.
Once bathed in the light of God, he hears God, speaks God, and lives God. He starts his own construction business and is now the model husband and father. His transformation leads him to decide to put his construction skills to work helping rebuild destroyed homes in civil war torn East Africa. While there, Sam travels into Sudan and witnesses first hand the barbarity dispensed at the hands of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) who are most infamously known for forcing children into being machine gun wielding soldiers. Childers’ outrage turns his one-time missionary trip into a life-long obsession. At the risk of alienating his family and becoming a hunted target by the LRA, Childers embarks on building an orphanage in one of the most dangerous areas controlled by the LRA.
Once we get to Africa, this film does pick up the pace but still nowhere close to where it needs to be. A phenomenal true story of redemption, courage, transformation, heroism and fearlessness, yet I felt none of these. So many rich, complex character and story lines ripe for telling - all brushed over into one big cliché. Truly unfortunate. One perfect example - a conversation between Sam and Lynn. He stands in Sudan, fighting for his life and the lives of helpless children, desperately trying to find a way to feed them. She stands back home in America in front of the diary section surrounded by an obnoxious amount of food. I understand the filmmaker’s point – the abundance here in America compared to children dying in Africa. I think we were all told as little children, “You better eat your broccoli. There are children starving in Africa!” Heard so many times it is now a punch line, a total cliché. Exactly like this scene. Lynn is not just standing in front of the egg selection. She is standing in front of an egg selection that takes up the entire aisle and the entire screen. Then the camera angle switches and she’s in front of an entire aisle of another product. Not even in Cosco have I seen such a ridiculous selection! There truly is something to be said for the art of subtlety. Bashing us over the head with a point does not make it any clearer. It makes it a mockery...by the way if anyone’s hungry there’s popcorn right in the lobby...
Finally, Gerard Butler may be a fine actor and while I am not one to call him trite, even he could not escape the wash that is this movie. Like the film, his best moments happen in Sudan, where there is a cause, something to connect to. His portrayal of the pre-God fearing Sam Childers however barely scratches the surface. I get the anger but it all seems like a lot of hot air. I don’t know if he is the victim of bad writing, bad directing or if the uninspired acting is just the trifecta.
Saying this, I would tell you to read the book, but there isn’t one.