The opening scene of Machine Gun Preacher takes place in the Sudan, Africa, 2003. A village is being attacked, women murdered, children abducted, machine gun blast blaring, and the screams of the innocent echoing throughout the burning village. This is the place where the real-life Sam Childers will soon find himself, of his own free will and because of his unwavering passion to help those who are being mistreated for the benefit of a rebel army.
Flashing back a few years the film introduces us to Sam (Gerard Butler) as he is being released from prison. Prison has not softened or changed Sam, his parting expletive to a prison guard makes this quite clear. But his wife has changed her life while he was away. Lynn (Michelle Monaghan) is no longer a stripper, she no longer does drugs, smokes cigarettes or drinks alcohol--her drug of choice now is God--a revelation that does not sit well with Sam as he rides away on his motorcycle for the local dive bar where his best friend Donnie (Michael Shannon) eagerly awaits him with a taste. Sam's continuing spiral of drug and alcohol abuse is only the beginning, as he is also a violent criminal whose moral scope is seriously skewed. One action on his part, fueled by his binging, leaves Sam a broken man in need of help. His wife Lynn is there to help him and through God and the church, and the belief that you can overcome the wrong you have done and forgive yourself, while also being forgiven, is what makes Sam a changed man.
After establishing the metamorphosis of Sam from a drug-addicted loser to an all-around good family man with a successful construction business there is the great leap in Sam's character, and what makes Machine Gun Preacher incredibly emotionally moving and powerful. After a guest Preacher at Sam and Lynn's church speaks about Africa and the hardships of many Sam decides to join the church on a missionary trip. It is during this trip that he witnesses the good, and also the horrors of life in the Sudan and Uganda; a place torn apart by the fighting between the murderous guerilla group Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA). Sam returns home a changed man, and a man hell-bent on change. He builds a church near his home for the "sinners" of the world, where anyone and everyone is welcome regardless of their lifestyle, or past. But Sam will make the ultimate sacrifice and do the most good with his other project, a project that will bring tears to your eyes as you watch Sam fight to make it happen. Sam will return to the Sudan and build an orphanage for the children who are able to escape, or are rescued, from the evil LRA. This place will be a safe haven for children, a place where they can live and learn and grow without fear, brutality, being forced into sex slavery, or forced to fight for the LRA.
Sam's complete dedication to the cause is phenomenal, but it is not without consequences. As the film moves between his time in the Sudan and the horrors of that life, there are also the moments spent at home with his family. His relationships at home with his wife and daughter are suffering, and his time spent in the Sudan is difficult because of the lack of funds he has at his disposal and the constant threats, and attacks, of violence. Sam Childers is an incredible character with an extraordinary story--making it somewhat difficult to believe this is all based on actual events. Machine Gun Preacher paints a picture of two very different men who encompass one mind and body. There is the loving father who wants nothing more than to send his daughter off to sleep with their favorite game, and then there is the machine gun toting fighter, who stands up to the LRA at every turn, unwilling to give up on the children of the Sudan. When you think of an emotional drama based on real events a title like Machine Gun Preacher may not be the first choice for inclusion. After watching the film though you will undoubtedly believe it is one of the most affecting films you have ever seen.
Gerard Butler is best known for his role in 300, and perhaps the forgettable romantic comedies The Bounty Hunter and The Ugly Truth. He has proven he can lead a special effects laden action movie with abs of steel as well as do his best to deliver a comedic line. What he had yet to prove was his range as an actor. With Machine Gun Preacher he shows he has talent, and it only took a dimensional dramatic character arc to put it on display. Balancing the two sides of Sam is not an easy task in Machine Gun Preacher. Sam is a calm and collected man consumed by demons in the second portion of the film, and a drugged-out, violent albeit scary man in the first half. By the end he must learn to balance the two equally in order to survive the dichotomy of his life in the Sudan and back at home in Pennsylvania. Gerard Butler excels in his depiction of Sam, the pain of his journey is exemplified, adding to the emotional lows and highs you feel right along with him as his life transforms. Sam is a man fighting for the near impossible, and his passion lies in the emotion filled face of Gerard Butler, and his incredible strength and passion for the cause when he speaks. Sam Childers is a tough man, and Gerard Butler steps right into his shoes to display the personal sacrifices, and amazing achievements Sam has accomplished with greatness.
Joining Gerard Butler in other main roles are Michelle Monaghan as his wife Lynn, Michael Shannon as his best friend Donnie, and Souleymane Sy Savane as his comrade in the Sudan, Deng. The combination of Butler'e Sam and Lynn, Donnie, and Deng make for a near-perfect ensemble. Monaghan is a quiet force pushing Sam to be better, while also refusing to let him give up on his dreams. She may not scream and yell, or make a large fuss, but Monaghan's performance is still powerful in its subtlety. Michael Shannon's Donnie is yet another complex character, on a smaller scale. As the man with whom Sam got into trouble he finds himself lost without his best friend, but given the opportunity to make his life better and help with Sam's family while he is away. Butler's Sam and Shannon's Donnie have an instant chemistry together--these are two men who have been friends their entire lives and you immediately know this about them. Donnie is never going to find a way out completely like Sam did, and Shannon's performance of this troubled man is impressionable upon the viewer. Donnie is trying very hard to be Sam, but he is not Sam, and the realization of this fact, and the heavy weight of it, slowly shows itself through Shannon's performance as time passes. The final key character is Sam's comrade Deng in the Sudan. Deng believes in what Sam is doing and remains with him through the fighting, the highs of building the orphanage and saving children, as well as the devastating times they both face. There is not much said or done by Deng, but the presence alone Sy Savane creates for his character is enough to make him memorable, as well as to show how important this man is to the Sudan, and to Sam's well-being.
Machine Gun Preacher is not an action movie. The scenes where fighting takes place between the LRA's and Sam's people in the Sudan are not to be excited about, or meant to thrill you out of your seat. This is a time of war, people are being murdered, children blown-up and mutilated. There are car explosions, there is a great deal of gunfire, and there is a level of anxiety created when Sam is facing the LRA. But this is the type of action that incites emotions in a viewer of empathy, anger, and astonishment over the atrocities you are witnessing. If you are hoping for a man with a machine gun shooting down bad guys in an all-out-let's-kill'em fun gunfight Machine Gun Preacher is not what you are looking for; it is based on events that are happening right now in the World--the violence in this film is not meant for fun, it should be treated with the utmost respect.
Drama, Action, Biography
September 23, 2011