‘Machine Gun Preacher’

Sam Childers is an ex-heroin addict who travels to Uganda, which is in the middle of a civil war, to build an orphanage and shoot the bad guys. The story seems like a typical Hollywood movie where a white American man goes to some third world nation and saves the poor lost children, but Childers is actually a real man from Pennsylvania. It is the genuineness of the story which overrides the Hollywood cliché, but the film is not without fault.

Childers is not a God-fearing Christian, at least not at the beginning. The film starts by following Childers (Gerard Butler) as he is released from prison. His post-prison life is consumed by stealing heroin and chugging shots at a bar with fellow junkie Donnie, played by Michael Shannon. But his life is soon complicated when he and Donnie pick up a hitchhiker who wants more than just a ride.

The film takes a while to set up Childers’ background story. There is heavy focus on his internal struggle with addiction, finding God and rebuilding a life for his family. But there are still moments of excitement, like when Childers’ community is ravaged by a tornado. During the tornado incident, we see Childers thinking on his feet to protect his family, and his improvisational skills will become useful later in the story.

There are also tender moments where Childers tucks his daughter, Paige, into bed and they play a rhyming game. The hardships and even the sentimental moments  that Childers encounters build his character into the strong, resilient man willing to lay down his life for his loved ones. His character transforms from a man sticking needles in his arm to a friend trying to rescue a buddy from drug addiction. When a preacher from Africa speaks at Childers’ church, he decides to extend his generosity.

Uganda is torn by bloodshed by the leader of the Lords Resistance Army (L.R.A.), and Childers intends to straighten out the chaos, but his life becomes disrupted with doubt, failure, and anger. The orphanage and Childers’ lack of mercy for the L.R.A. make him famous in Uganda, but back home his finances dwindle and his family crumbles. Childers begins to doubt God’s way, which is a feeling presumably relatable to some Christians and even some non-Christians. Childers questions whether God is truly helping and protecting sinners like himself. He reacts to his failures with anger, lashing out at friends, family, and even the orphaned children.

It cannot go unmentioned that there is a pro-Christian theme, but this should not discourage non-believers like myself. The film does reveal an intriguing dilemma. Every righteous fight encounters moral complications. For example, how does one fight an enemy who enlists the children that you are there to protect? Also, are you still a righteous person if you have sunk to the level of your enemy? Childers must overcome the decisions he has made while in Africa and he must find God again.

Although the graphic, bloody violence is truly unforgettable, the film is not a tribute to slasher-films; hence, it is suitable for those with weak stomachs.

Gerard Butler does a fair job at portraying the tough guy with a soft heart. Of course, the angry man who raises his voice has become Butler’s trademark, so it would have been nice if we could have seen more depth to his emotions. Souleymane Sy Savane, who plays a freedom fighter Deng, and Michelle Monaghan, who plays Childers’ wife Lynn, also do a fair job. Unfortunately, there are no emotionally charged scenes where Butler, Shannon or even Monaghan can really step out of their comfort zones and show the audience a character that feels real.

The film fails to portray the uniqueness of the characters. There is nothing that separates Childers from any other action character. With such a dynamic character like Childers, you have expected more intense scenes depicting the internal struggle between his drug and crime-filled past and his new God-loving present. Unfortunately, the film fails to completely deliver.

I say “completely deliver” because there are still moments where his two worlds collide. But the focus always remains on Childers’ anger rather than the source of his anger.

The true story is compelling and the film itself does a fair job. The actors are decent and the action remains believable throughout the story.  The film keeps you enticed long enough to enjoy the story instead of wondering when the movie is going to end.

Rating: 3 out of 5