Machine Gun Preacher is best summed up by the immortal line from Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive: “I kick ass for the Lord!”. Gerard Butler stars as real life hero Sam Childers, a former heroin-shooing biker badass who follows his wife’s lead and turns to God following a particularly rough night of robbery and murder. He soon starts his own construction company and builds a church that he can reside over in his small town of Central City, PA. A visiting pastor inspires Sam to try his hand at missionary work in Africa where he learns firsthand about the atrocities of the Lord’s Resistance Army and the thousands of children affected by their actions. Sam builds an orphanage in a particularly dangerous territory in order to prove a point and is thus forced to constantly defend it from L.R.A. attacks. The violence and gravity of the situation in Sudan alongside Sam’s difficulties with raising money for his efforts back home take their toll on our hero as he eventually transforms into a frustrated mercenary with a death wish and nothing to lose. A balance between the obligations of family and humanity is thankfully achieved by film’s end as the real life Childers continues his efforts today.
Director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Monster’s Ball) crafts a capable film that is at times glossy and gritty depending on the situation. The extreme violence that’s portrayed may be accurate, but in the world of big-budget filmmaking certain scenes such as a Sudanese woman who had her lips cut off come across as more exploitative than heart-wrenching. The scenes of Sam’s unrest and inability to connect with his family after what he’s seen feel true and effectively frustrating. The real Sam Childers surely hoped that this film would inspire others to follow his path, and it may actually do so depending on the viewers’ tolerance for Hollywood conventions.
Machine Gun Preacher opens today at the Ritz East.