Title: Machine Gun Preacher
Director: Marc Forster
Actor(s): Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan
Genre: Action, Drama, Biography, Crime
Theme: Born Again Christian, True Story, Kony, Sudan
Runtime: 129 mins
DVD Release Date: 21 May 2012
Synopsis: When ex-biker-gang member Sam Childers (Butler) makes the life-changing decision to go to East Africa to help repair homes destroyed by civil war, he is outraged by the unspeakable horrors faced by the region's vulnerable populace, especially the children. Ignoring the warnings of more experienced aide workers, Sam breaks ground for an orphanage where it's most needed-in the middle of territory controlled by the brutal Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a renegade militia that forces youngsters to become soldiers before they even reach their teens. But for Sam, it is not enough to shelter the LRA's intended victims. Determined to save as many as possible, he leads armed missions deep into enemy territory to retrieve kidnapped children, restoring peace to their lives-and eventually his own.
My Review: Machine Gun Preacher is one of those movies that sneaks up on you, grabs your heart, and doesn't let go. Going into this movie, I'm a bit embarrassed to say I not only hadn't heard of Sam Childers and his work over in Sudan and Uganda, but had no idea who Joseph Kony was, the leader of the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army). But I guess that is the point of movies like this-- to educate and inform people about very serious current issues going on in the world. As a blogger, a teacher, and the type of person that is not afraid to speak my mind, I knew before the end credits rolled that I would be reviewing Machine Gun Preacher and dedicating the post to the children of Uganda and Sudan and to spread awareness so that Kony's reign of terror will end.
Gerard Butler does a great job portraying Sam Childers, former drug dealer, heroin addict, motorcycle misfit whose first moments on the screen is him being released after doing a stint in prison. I like the fact that the movie doesn't try to sugarcoat how Sam used to be--you can add verbally abusive to his wife and not much of a father figure to his daughter to the list. But after a life changing incident, he allows his wife to clean him up and take him to the church that helped her find God (she was also a former addict & stripper).
Now many may think this movie is "preachy" since it shows Sam being baptized and he later builds his own church--but I'm setting the record straight, this movie's agenda is not to "convert" or "recruit" people to Christianity. This is not a film in the fashion of Fireproof and Courageous. The solid R rating should attest to that. But Sam IS a born again Christian and the movie IS about his life, so of course it's going to play an important part of the film. I just wanted to clear the air for those people that may have been thinking about skipping the film because they thought Machine Gun Preacher was going to be "preachy".
I don't want to give too much away as far as describing specific scenes since I think this movie is much more effective by watching it with your own eyes, but let me say there are definitely some shocking moments when Sam is over in Africa. Children being maimed, tortured, burned, children forced to kill other children, etc. The one scene I will divulge that pissed me off-- as it did Sam-- was actually the scene where he asks a rich businessman who praised his work over in Africa, for $5,000 which would help keep the orphanage running for another 6 months. The man invites Sam and his family over to a huge, lavish party where he hands him an envelope. Sam excuses himself to the bathroom, opens it, to find a check for....$150 dollars! WTF?? Sometimes I forget how selfish and self centered people can be!
What kept me from giving this movie a complete 5 star rating was more a directorial/writing/casting issue. The first thing that bothered me was the time transitions or lack there of. In the beginning of the movie, there was a little blurb that popped up to let everyone know what year it was. The rest of the film is not so kind. I'm not saying every scene needed a little blurb to let me know that time had passed, but there were definitely a few awkward time transitions that confused me. Most movies that are based on true stories will say something like, "2 years later" or something to help the viewer acclimate to the time change. In this movie, one minute Paige, Sam's daughter, is 5 years old, then she is suddenly in her young teens. This wouldn't be a big deal but I had to rewind it because while everyone else looked the same, there was an older actress playing Paige. I think a little blurb stating that time had passed would have been helpful.
Another awkward scene is when Donnie, Sam's best friend, tries to take over his nightly duties as a father. It's sweet that while Sam was over in Africa, Donnie would keep an eye on Lynn and Paige. But there is just this part where Donnie is telling Paige goodnight, and she asks, "Aren't you gonna read me a book?" Followed by her saying her dad normally kisses her on the forehead and he can do that if he wanted to. Now this isn't the 5 year old Paige asking this. It is the 13-14 year old Paige asking. I work with middle/high school kids and...I don't know, I just felt that that particular scene was creepy and awkward. Not many kids that age that I know would ask their dad's friend for a kiss on the forehead. That's just my opinion!
My last issue is a small one, more like a goof. There is a scene where Sam is at the airport to leave for Africa and Lynn, Paige, and Donnie walk him right up to the departing gate. I think everyone knows that doesn't happen anymore, especially after 9/11.
Like I said, these are just minor issues I had. If you plan on buying Machine Gun Preacher, it is due out on dvd and blu-ray on June 5th. When you get your copy, make sure you don't turn the film off right away. While the end credits role, there is some real life photos and footage of the real Sam Childers, his close friends/freedom fights Deng and Marco, etc. I am going to end this post with something the real Sam says:
"For me to sit here and give all kinds of excuses to make it right, I can't do. But what I want to ask everyone out there, everyone that has a child, everyone that has a brother, a sister: if your child or family member was abducted today, if a mad man came in, a terrorist came in, abducted your family member or your child and if I said to you I can bring your child home...does it matter how I bring them home?" --Sam Childers