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The Cinematic Katzenjammer: July 12: Machine Gun Preacher


July 12: Machine Gun Preacher

"Sam Childers is a former drug-dealing biker tough guy who found God and became a crusader for hundreds of Sudanese children who've been forced to become soldiers."
Directed by: Marc Forster, Rated: R, 129 minutes

Is Machine Gun Preacher an action movie or a dramatic heart-wrenching story? That's a question you're left asking after seeing the film, as it really has no idea where to go with itself. It's all over the place and can never pinpoint any particular emotion. Yes, the scenes involving the hurt and captured children of Sudan are heart-wrenching, but when you have Gerard Butler wearing a biker bandanna and launching an RPG in the next scene, you're really not sure how to feel. It also doesn't help that the movie jumps forward in time whenever it feels like it, and although it's not terribly confusing or hard to follow, it leaves out a lot of character development. For instance, Butler's character becomes a man of God in seemingly a split-second, and the next scene he's bible-thumping his way around his house.

 Give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he'll dine in hell. 

Machine Gun Preacher tells the true story of Sam Childers (Gerard Butler), a former criminal who finds God and realizes his purpose in life is to help the thousands of orphans Sudan. These kids have continually fought for their lives and eluded capture from the warlord, Joseph Kony and his men. Childers does whatever he can to raise the money in order to build an orphanage and a save-haven for the war refugees, at the risk of losing his home and his family. He becomes obsessed with his cause, and although it's all with good intentions, his motivation becomes too one-note. He lashes at his family when they're not careful with money (because it all has to go to his cause) and personally, isn't the most likable guy. He sells his house, his motorcycles, his guns, and his business all without talking to his wife, Lynn (the sexy Michelle Monaghan), before making any of these decisions. It's not necessarily a bad thing, and it all could have played out different in the real story, but Machine Gun Preacher paints the picture of a man who's too careless with his good will, if that's even possible. It's also why I couldn't completely like the film. The characters go well under-developed and every one of their actions leaves more questions than any satisfaction. Again, nothing against the real Sam Childers as I find the fault with the filmmakers, specifically those who wrote the script. It's poorly paced and way too inconsistent. Machine Gun Preacher is severely lacking in emotion. I even feel the writers were aware of this fact, and threw in a dramatic scene with a refugee child being wounded or killed to make up for the lack of drama in the dialogue and situations. 

"Maybe if we force enough tears, they'll ignore the weak plot!", said the film's writer. 

While Gerard Butler delivers one of the stronger performances in his career (that still leaves a lot to be desired), his character is too confused in the middle of everything going on. This is another case of good acting hurt by bad writing and I can't help but wonder how great Machine Gun Preacher could have been if the script was stronger. It's a film that should be inspirational and even up-lifting, but it feels more like a call to arms, literally. The violence in the film is quite surprising, and as I mentioned earlier, it's full of RPGs, assault rifles, and explosions. The director, Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Quantum of Solace), tries to appease everyone in the crowd, giving those thrills one moment, and attempting to bring you to tears the next. This attempt just makes everything too messy and border-line frustrating. Even in the end (of an already long movie), there is very little resolution to the mess. I know that the conflict in Sudan is still going on, but Childers, as a character, never develops into the hero you're looking for. As all true stories do, the film ends with a summary of what's happened to those involved, but by then you don't really care. 


I would suggest skipping Machine Gun Preacher. I feel the topic and the man behind the story would have made for a much more effective documentary. I truly believe the story is something that should be told and everything Childers has done is remarkable. He's just deserving of a much better film than this and it's very disappointing. It's all brute and no heart and focuses way too much on the violence and warfare than it does the dramatic human story all of us can feel for. It does, however, have the always incredible Michael Shannon in a pretty good supporting role. Yes, that's my takeaway. 

The Good:
the film gives a lot of attention to a humanitarian disaster that I believe needs to be talked about much more
The Bad:
however, it doesn't quite raise the right points about the conflict and doesn't do the true story justice
The Ugly:
not being able to tell if the movie is being an advocate for ministry and mission work or for more violence in an already war-torn country

Overall: 4.3/10

Re-watch? No
Buy? Certainly not

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