In the first ten minutes of "Machine Gun Preacher," we witness Gerard Butler's character leave prison, scream at his wife, shoot heroin and attempt to kill an older man with a knife. Hard to believe this will be the hero to our story and the savior to orphaned children in Africa, but it is.
Butler portrays the very real Sam Childers in a film directed by Marc Forster and written by Jason Keller.
"Machine Gun Preacher," out on DVD June 5, brings to mind a film from the '70s or a flick that Quentin Tarantino would direct. But, instead we get an inspiring true story about a low life who found God, found himself and saved hundreds of lives in the process. Too bad Forster couldn't make a better film to compliment such a story.
We open with Sam Childers leaving prison and see him fall back into old, nasty habits with ease. The script should be given credit for its willingness to show the true rock bottom of our main character. He is one unlikable son of a gun. But, soon, like his wife did while he was in prison, Sam finds God. He is baptized and immediately feels reborn. He opens his own business and begins to be a better father and husband. When a preacher from Africa visits Sam's church he is presented with a mission that he feels is from God. He leaves for Africa where he will build orphanages, fight the rebel armies and preach the good word.
The biggest issue with "Machine Gun Preacher" is the direction's tone. That is, if there even is a specific tone. It's more monotone than anything. The script dares to show the extremes of Childers' life, but we never feel any sort of transition with the camera or storytelling in general from the director. We watch as Sam faces the challenges of disappointing his family, yelling at his own church members in anger and holding children blown apart by landmines, but Forster never really controls the shifting mood in any fashion.
The film is, at one second, a family drama and the next a borderline action film. Forster never does anything to bridge that gap. Sure, he is technically capable with his camera, but that is about it.
Another problem is Butler's accent. He's a fine actor and pulls off a fantastic performance, but he overdoes the midwest drawl at times, and his Scottish accent is usually pretty obvious.
The film also never lives up to the name. Sam Childers earned his colorful moniker because of his violent way of dealing with the African rebel armies torturing their own people. We see Sam fire some weapons here and there without much build up or explanation, and we watch one woman question his methods. Yet during the latter scene the film has left us so naive of Sam's violent deeds that we wonder, "What tactics?"
The script juggles too many things at once and never focuses enough for us to ponder on anything Sam does for more than a few minutes. We never have more than a moment or two to take in his anger towards his fellow man doing nothing, his alienation from his family or even his tactics in Africa.
The performances in "Machine Gun Preacher" deserve our respect. Butler, Michelle Monaghan as Sam's devoted wife and many of the African actors are fantastic. However, the great Michael Shannon is wasted in his small role.
The story itself should be told to families around the world. Sam Childers was a man who found God and saved hundreds of lives as an individual. He's not some government organization with a hidden agenda, he's a real man with real feelings and motivations. The film also looks fantastic and is accompanied by a great, understated score.
A film like "Machine Gun Preacher" was bound to go one of two ways: it either would've been a highly original and heart-wrenching film that dabbled in both drama and action, or it would've been a nice, but typical attempt to tell a great story. "Machine Gun Preacher" falls into the latter category.
The special features include a couple of theatrical trailers and a featurette on the film's score.
Sucker Punches: None. In fact, "Machine Gun Peacher" actually paints religion in a positive light. It's also interesting to note (for our Libertarian readers) that Sam Childers does everything in the movie as an individual. We never see him begging for tax money or making points about government intervention.
Read more about Sam and his mission at the real Childers' web site.