Review: Machine Gun Preacher
PLOT: The true story of Sam Childers (Gerard Butler); a drug addict biker who, thanks to the encouragement of his faithful wife (Michelle Monaghan), finds God and becomes a born-again Christian. After a minister from the Sudan visits his church, Sam decides to volunteer for a few months. Once there, he witnesses the unspeakable atrocities committed by Joseph Kony's 'Lord's Army', and vows to build an orphanage in the middle of the area most ravaged by war, and to fight Kony's army with deadly force of his own.
REVIEW: There's probably nothing else playing at TIFF that tells a more incredible story that of Sam Childers. Imagine if, say, Jax from SONS OF ANARCHY, suddenly found God, and decided to go to the Sudan, where he becomes an almost RAMBO-esque figure. Well, in a way that's what MACHINE GUN PREACHER is, but holy shit- it's all true!
Well OK, I've never met Childers, and I've yet to read his book, so I don't know for certain whether or not the film is an exaggerated account. Being a big-budget studio flick, I wouldn't be surprised, but I have read a bit about the man, and for the most part the film seems accurate.
Considering the material, MACHINE GUN PREACHER should probably better than it is. Its obvious that this is Relativity Media's big Oscar hopeful, but considering the wild subject matter, the film probably needed a steadier hand at the helm than Marc Forster, who's done two top-notch films (MONSTER'S BALL and FINDING NEVERLAND), but since then has fumbled a bit, most notably with his Bond film, QUANTUM OF SOLACE, which wasn't terrible, but was a bit of a mess and had indecipherable action scenes.
The problem with MACHINE GUN PREACHER is that it seems like everyone involved was too busy trying to wring the drama out of every single last scene in order to get Oscar consideration, and forgot to allow an room for subtlety or nuance. Everything is just so damn broad, and Forster smothers the film by trying to turn each scene into an emotional powerhouse, which works if you look at the scenes individually, but is ridiculous strung together. I also think the problem is that large scale, epic films aren't Forster's forte. If you compare the gritty first twenty minutes to the rest of the film, you'll notice how much more comfortable Forster seems to be telling the story of Childers' life as a thug/drug addict, rather than as a born-again, soldier of God.
This is maddening, as Childers' story deserved better. One thing about the film thats bound to be controversial is the `born-again christian` aspect, and while its certainly there in the beginning, Forster seems to dismiss it later on, which is a bit of a betrayal of Childers' story. Whether you're religious or not (I'm not particularly), it's his faith that drove him to do what he does. I understand that they wanted to appeal to a broad, non-religious audience, but having him essentially renounce his faith towards the end seems a little phony, as it's not something I'd imagine the real Childers doing.
However, MACHINE GUN PREACHER isn't a train-wreck as it does have a few things going for it. For one, the story itself is dynamic, even if it gets the Hollywood treatment. The portrayal of the civil war in the Sudan is presented in an unflinching manner, and if this manages to shine a light on the on-going atrocities in that region, it'll be a job well done for the filmmakers.
Gerard Butler also makes a pretty good Childers, with him being tough enough to handle hardcore action scenes (although they maybe get a little too RAMBO near the end, with him decked out in an action-hero outfit that's a little much). He also manages to convey a lot of compassion, which is essential to the part.
Michelle Monaghan is also very good as Childers' faithful wife, although the conflict that Childers dedication to the Sudan, at his own family's expense could have been examined a little more. Rather, it figures in the last twenty minutes, but is otherwise ignored.
One of my favorite actors, Michael Shannon, has a supporting role as Childers former junkie-cohort, who gets clean, and eventually ends up taking care of his friend's family while he's away. Shannon once again is a powerhouse, but maybe he's too good, as I kept wanting them to spend more time with Shannon and the family- but alas, that's not the story. Still, when hes on-screen he's fantastic.
The big question now seems to be, will it get Butler the Oscar nomination the studio is pushing for? Ummm, well, I'm not so sure he deserves it as this point- not that Butler drops the ball, but more that he's betrayed by the workman-like way the film is put together. If the director and the material had been matched better, this could have really been something. It's still not bad, and might even be a hit (apparently the audience at the public screening loved it), but I still this should have been much better.
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