Review by Gene
Gerard Butler is no stranger to power roles (300, Law Abiding Citizen). So when you see a movie poster with an actor standing firm, rifle in hand behind the title “Machine Gun Preacher”, you’re not surprised to find it is Butler. I mean come on, anybody who can wear nothing but a red cape and speedo while screaming out the name of the city he’s in, and still manage to make every guy wish they were him, demands a nod from the collective testosterone of men everywhere.
Butler stars in Machine Gun Preacher as Sam Childers, a former bike gang member and all around bad dude turned Christian, who discovers a world outside his own in Sudan which is closer to his former cut-throat lifestyle than he expects. This movie is rated R and really hits the ground running in terms of violence as we are immediately introduced to the very real world that is Sudan. A small village is ravaged and a boy is forced into an impossible and disturbing decision. This scene sets the stage for what is to come in Sam’s life. Because of this scene, and many to follow, I would advise putting the kiddos to bed before giving this a whirl.
We are introduced to Sam as he is released from prison and returns directly to the lifestyle which most certainly got him there in the first place. Sam soon discovers his wife Lilly, played well enough by Michelle Monaghan, has found God and no longer smokes, drinks, or strips at the local club. She actually turns out to be a great example of a Godly woman. She introduces Sam to the message of Christ. She cares for their child while Sam is in prison and while he is in Africa. She even gives a stern yet encouraging reminder to Sam at a moment when he feels all he’s doing is useless. The film doesn’t focus much on her, but she also serves as a great example of someone turning their life around for Jesus.
On Sam’s first trip to South Sudan a large group of children walk into a more populated village for the night to keep safe. Sam, sleeping in a small home in the village, is compelled to bring all the children in from outside. When he faced with the fact that they cannot all fit in the house he responds, “Yeah, but I can take these right here.” This line, and the disaster Sam discovers the next morning, prompts a turning point in the movie in which Sam makes it his personal mission to keep these children safe. As he later explains to the leader of Sudan, “Well I’ve kinda made it my struggle.’till someone else starts fightin’ the fight for these children then I’m the one that’s gonna do it.” This is a terrific message for all Christians to adopt. We don’t have to travel across the globe to make it a reality, but we can decide that we are going to do what we can, when we can, to be sure that we are fulfilling some of the most practical aspects of our faith. James says that “faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:17). The Gospel is replete with examples and commands for us to help our neighbors, help the orphans and the widows. At the core of what Sam was doing is a deep conviction to hold to verses like this and make them a reality.
In the many trips Sam makes from the States to Sudan and back, he leaves behind his wife Lilly and his daughter Paige, played primarily by Madeline Carroll. Helping Sam care for his family while he’s gone is his former gangster pal Donnie, played spot on by Michael Shannon. Shannon’s mannerisms in his speech, his walk, even his glances around the room do wonders to convince the audience that he is an addict, but trying very hard not to be. Donnie does the best he knows how in caring for Sam’s family, yet in nearly every scene he appears uncomfortable not just with this new role of fill-in-daddy, but also with keeping the straight and narrow path (Mt. 7:14). Sam’s struggles become increasingly evident throughout the film as well. Along with caring for hundreds of children in Africa, he also preaches at his church back home. These sermons become progressively angry as it appears Sam becomes arrogant toward everyone else for not doing as much as he is to help others. As his pride begins to overwhelm him, you can feel him sinking deeper and deeper into anger and rage. Why aren’t these people doing more? Why don’t they care? Taking a step back however, you can see that it is not fair of him to expect the same of all these people as he has chosen to undertake himself. The Bible says we all have our talents and abilities (1 Cor. 12:8-12). Not everyone can preach or teach, and not everyone can drop everything and travel across the world to help the needy. That can be done all over the world, including in your very own neighborhood.
Butler is very convincing as the machine gun preacher and he pulls from nearly every corner of his emotional bag to do so. I found myself sympathizing for him not only in the times he was striving to do right, but also in the flashes of anger he displayed towards others who were completely ignorant, through no fault of their own, of the struggles and horrors that other people in the world face. I hesitate to classify this as a “Christian” movie, although maybe that’s exactly what it should be. Most Christian movies released today have a solid message but fall horribly short in acting and dialogue. There is a slight hint of those such things in Machine Gun Preacher, but they are few and far between, and are vastly outweighed by the performances delivered by Butler in particular, and to a lesser extent Monaghan and Shannon. I say I hesitate because this movie is filled with all the violence and cursing that you might expect from a movie with the title “Machine Gun Preacher”. That in itself would likely turn many Christians off to seeing it, but I found it well worth the watch.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about this flick is that it is all based on a true story. If you feel so inclined, take some time to read up on the real Sam Childers. Let the credits roll to see images of the real people portrayed in this movie as well as a thought-provoking statement/question from Childers. I think a lot of men can relate to a guy like Childers, religious or not. We all see evil in the world and wonder; what can be done to stop it? Why does it happen in the first place? What, if anything, can we do about it? Childers knows his answers to questions such as this and is unapologetic in his fight against evil.
My Rating: 3.5/5
There are a handful of supporting roles that aren’t performed too strongly and a couple of moments in the dialogue that were very dry. None of those however take away from the overall message and point of the movie. I would have liked for a little more time to be spent on Sam’s conversion. That was an opportunity missed to focus on a lot of the struggles that certainly took place within Sam, such as going through withdraws or confronting former gang buddies. We got dabs of that, but not much. In some of the intense moments there was some kind of weird screen flash thing, likely trying to convey the havoc that was occurring on screen a little better visually… fail. Overall, if you aren’t bothered by violence and some cursing worthy of an R rating, this is a decent movie featuring a true to life redemption story. It’s worth the price of a rental.
Additionally, you may be wondering why I didn’t touch on the seeming contradiction in the very title of the movie; a preacher not shy about using violence, even killing some. The reason is that we actually looked at this film in one of our first moral dilemma dialogues and tackled that issue, and one other. Follow this link to read up on what Logan and Tres cover in the movie and feel free to weigh in on their thoughts.
Sam: “B*%$h found Jesus”, Donnie: “No way! Better him than the milk man, right?” Sam: “Not so sure about that.”
Lynn Childers: “Get off your butt, stop crying, and build it again.”
Sudanese orphan boy: “If we allow ourselves to be full of hate, then they’ve won. We must not let them take our hearts.”