In Machine Gun Preacher Gerard Butler plays Sam Childer, a self described ‘hillbilly’ from Pennsylvania who likes to play with guns. We meet Sam as he is just getting out of prison, for what is most likely a drug offence. Returning to his wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan) and daughter Daisy (Kathy Baker), he learns that Lynn has quit her job as a stripper and has found Christ. Sam does not react well to this and begins his downward spiral into drugs and violence again with his friend Donnie (Michael Shannon) as his dealing partner. Hitting bottom after a particularly violence evening, he becomes a Born Again Christian. Over the next few years, he puts his life back together, starting a successful construction company. Feeling like he hasn’t done enough to redeem himself, he takes an opportunity to travel to Uganda to do construction for one a Christian mission. While there, he travels to southern Sudan and sees the horrors of the county’s civil war first hand. Affected by the brutalization and devastation he sees, Sam decides to build a desperately needed orphanage in an area controlled by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a militia group that is turning kids into child soldiers and spreading carnage around the countryside.
Directed by Marc Forster best known for Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, The Kite Runner and the latest Bond film Quantum of Solace, he has build up an impressive resume in the past 10 years so he knows how to make a movie. Machine Gun Preacher is extra challenging because the film is 80% drama and 20% action, but he has the skill to blend the two together without it turning it into a clichÃ©d action flick.
It is hard not to sympathize with the plight of the people of Sudan and seeing it through Sam’s eyes you can understand why he is not against using violence. The fundamental challenge with a storyline like this is that you have a white American with a religious mission from god coming to Africa to inflict his own brand of street justice. Done by a lesser filmmaker, this story could have turned into a “America saves the world” tale, but Forster keeps his objectivity for most of the film. The film more or less sympathizes with Sam’s point of view, but he is also shown as a complex man with motives that are not always clear. Sure it is all about the children, but it is easy to see the ego boost he must get from being the “savior” of the Sudan villagers. Sam has let the myth run wild both for himself and to better his cause.
Machine Gun Preacher works as both as a character study of a complex man and brings attention to an ignored war in place that isn’t as far away as it seems. Machine Gun Preacher opens September 30th and its well worth a view even if you don’t always agree with the Preacher’s methods.