Title: Machine Gun Preacher
Studio/Distributor: Relativity Media
Director: Marc Forster
Principle Cast: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon, Kathy Baker, Souleymane Sy Savane
Length: 129 minutes
Released: June 5, 2012
I’m a big Gerard Butler fan and I must confess that when I first heard that he was doing a film called Machine Gun Preacher, I cringed and thought, oh no, another piece of crap like Law Abiding Citizen and Gamer! When is he going to make a decent movie?! However, after watching Machine Gun Preacher on DVD because I needed a Butler fix, I’m very pleased to report that I was dead wrong in assuming that it wouldn’t be any good because it is in fact, above average and compelling to watch.
Machine Gun Preacher, directed by Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, The Kite Runner) is based on the true, inspirational story of Sam Childers, a former biker gang member and drug-dealing criminal, who hit rock bottom, found salvation in Jesus, and underwent an astounding metamorphosis through which he discovered an unanticipated calling to be the savior of hundreds of kidnapped and orphaned children in the Sudan.
The movie, which tanked at the box office when it opened, is violent, visceral and filled with coarse language, but the story is one that needs to be heard. There are enough breaks in the brutality to make it bearable to watch, the African children will melt the hardest of hearts, and Gerard Butler as Sam Childers (he’s also one of the executive producers on the film) gives one of the best performances of his career as the small-town Pennsylvania hillbilly turned preacher seeking redemption for his sins.
This volatile film opens with drug-addicted gang biker Sam being released from prison in Pittsburgh only to find that his stripper wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan) has quit her job and become a Christian. Sam’s mother Daisy (Kathy Baker, in a very small role) and Lynn try to convince Sam that he needs to find a new path, but the angry Sam is not interested, shows little interest in his young daughter, Paige, and continues to drink heavily and do drugs.
Then one night, Sam and his best friend Donnie (Michael Shannon of Revolutionary Road and The Greatest, in another impressive performance), both high on heroin, pick up a hitchhiker who threatens to slash Donnie’s throat. Sam freaks out, wrestles the knife away from him and stabs him repeatedly, throwing him out of the car and leaving him for dead. Later that night we see Sam in his bathroom, frantically trying to wash the blood out of his t-shirt, when his wife walks in on him. The look of agony and fear on Butler’s face is priceless as he pleads with Lynn to help him. She ends up taking him to church where he’s soon baptized and later lands a construction job. He’s so successful with his new trade that he starts his own business.
Soon after, Sam meets a preacher with a missionary in Africa and, intensely inspired by his work, he decides to visit Northern Uganda and South Sudan to see if he can be of any help. In Sudan he discovers the young victims of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), whose parents have been murdered and who have been kidnapped and forced to become child soldiers. Sam is so devastated by what he witnesses that he makes it his mission to build an orphanage for the children and to protect them at all costs. However, for Sam, it’s not enough to shelter the LRA’s intended victims. Backed by freedom fighters of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), he leads armed missions into enemy territory to retrieve kidnapped children, constantly risking his own life. And so he becomes a legend known as the machine gun preacher.
Apparently, according to imdb.com, the real Sam Childers shows screenings of a heavily-edited version of the film in churches around the world to raise proceeds which are used to support his ongoing work with the Angels of East Africa in South Sudan. He’s reported as having said that the film is heavily “Hollywoodized” and if you read the bio on his website, the order of events in his life have been significantly changed for the film, but he says that more than 70% of it is true. Childers recently authored a book called Another Man’s War about his experiences and you can read the truth about his story in it.
Civil war in Africa is usually a news story that I try to avoid reading about or watching on television because it’s a situation so horrifying, depressing and seemingly hopeless, that it’s heartbreaking. Most of us aren’t thick-skinned enough to look at genocide straight on or to ask how we can help because we’re just too petrified of what might be asked of us. Even if you don’t agree with his religion, his politics, or the fact that he kills in the name of the Lord, Sam Childers is a remarkably courageous man who continues to try his best to help those who much of the world would let burn, and for that he deserves to be recognized. It’s for that reason, as well as Gerard Butler’s portrayal of him, that you should watch this movie.