Machine Gun Preacher

Machine Gun Preacher

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The subject of child soldiers in Uganda, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo has been cropping up in documentary form for a number of years - in everything from The Other Side Of The Country to War Child - and has also reared its ugly head in recent French/Belgian co-production Johnny Mad Dog, but this is arguably the most 'mainstream' English-language treatment it has received to date. It is commendable that Gerard Butler, director Marc Foster and writer Jason Keller have tried to bring the issue to as wide an audience as possible through this film based on the real-life story of Sam Childers - but though its heart may be in the right place, it never finds a steady rhythm.

This is partially down to the fact that Childers is such a larger than life character. A Philadelphia builder and ne'er do well, we meet him as he's leaving jail for what, presumably, is not the first time. Interested in little more than sex and drugs and rock and roll, he is eager to return to his old routine and disgusted that his long-suffering wife (Michelle Monaghan, who deserves better roles than this) has found God, and swapped work in a strip joint for a strip mall as a result. Amazingly, it is not long before Childers has a road to Damascus moment himself and, weighed down by guilt, turns to God. Seizing his new life with a born-again fervour, he opts for the missionary position - in Sudan.


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There, he is horrified to discover the plight both of the children orphaned by the ongoing fighting and of those who are kidnapped by the LRA and made to fight on their behalf. As a man who is no stranger to the gun, he decides to pick up in the name of righteousness, building both an orphanage to offer shelter for the kids in trouble and starting to wage a minor war of his own.

Butler certainly throws himself into portraying Childers and gets away with quite a lot through virtue of his sheer physicality. The action sequences work pretty well, for the most part, and the ground covered in terms of what often happens to children in these war-torn areas is fairly accurate, if horrific. The scripting, however, is more problematic, particularly in the film's expository and more emotional moments. Much of the dialogue feels as though Keller is trying to force-feed us the point and the amount of ground being covered in terms of Childers life is so vast that any sort of character nuance is crushed. This is certainly not a hagiography of Childers and, to Keller's credit, there is some attempt made to point out that the way of the gun is unlikely to produce a peaceful result.

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Still there is a fog of self-righteousness obscuring a clear view of the central character and the screenplay gets almost fatally caught between praising and condemning him, so that much of a sense of his motivation is lost. A brave effort then, and one that may well raise awareness among audiences that would otherwise avoid all talk of trouble in Africa, but nowhere near the exploration it is aiming to be.

Reviewed on: 07 Nov 2011
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The story of Sam Childers, a former drug-dealing biker tough guy who found God and became a crusader for hundreds of Sudanese children who've been forced to become soldiers.
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