Sunday, 13 November 2011

Machine Gun Preacher

Machine Gun Preacher is one of those films that appear out of nowhere.  The trailer only appeared in the cinema about a week before its release but it was enough to pique my interest.

PLOT:  Sam Childers, (Gerard Butler) a reformed criminal and drug user, finds God and turns his life around.  He receives a calling from God and travels to Southern Sudan in order to put his construction skills to good use.  Sam builds an orphanage but faces a constant battle to secure funds to keep the orphanage running and protected from the rebels.  END PLOT

The plot is choppy and the concept of time is never portrayed well.  Sam goes from reformed criminal to successful business man during dinner and the only reason the audience knows time has passed is because his daughter has aged about five years and the actress has changed. It isn’t clear how long and how frequent his trips to Africa were.

The action was very realistic and they did not hold back in showing trauma to children so it was  uncomfortable to watch.  The action scenes mostly happened on dark, secluded roads but they were always announced as Butler always made sure to be wearing a bandana just before they were shot upon. 

Machine Gun Preacher was such an uncomfortable watch because of the violence and trauma the Sudanese children suffered.  If you show me a child with a grazed knee on Children’s Hospital I am in pieces – show me mutilated or burned children and I will not be able to cope.  The problem is Machine Gun Preacher used this to the point that I just couldn’t wait for the film to be over.

I will never be able to imagine the horrors children in Africa go through on a daily basis and Machine Gun Preacher did show this in extreme and you could argue in essential detail but from a film-making point of view I thought it was incredibly sneaky.

Machine Gun Preacher was the story of Sam Childers however I felt no emotional connection to his story whatsoever.  I have never found God and I appreciate that it a personal experience and will not come with a brass fanfare and hallelujahs ringing in the air but it almost came across as “Baptism? Aye why not I will have a bit of that”. 

Sam Childers development was just as choppy as the plotting as he fell in and out of love with God, Sudan and his best friend constantly.  There were times, even after he found God, when Sam was just unlikeable. I couldn't help feeling unsympathetic towards him regardless of the phenomenal work he was doing. 

It’s almost as though Mark Forster, the director, realised that there was no emotion in Sam Childers and really ramped up the “children in peril” aspect in order to stop the film from being a complete bore.  If they managed to make Sam Childers engaging to the audience Machine Gun Preacher had the opportunity to be one of the big hitters of the year.

Performance wise it Butler was fine.  It did take me a while to get used to Gerard Butler’s America accent however once he stopped running around like a SAMCRO reject I started to buy into his performance.   I wonder if a stronger actor would have been able to strike the emotional chord which Butler failed to do.  

Machine Gun Preacher is based on the true story of Sam Childers, a most remarkable man who has done more good in his life than I will ever will, but from a film point of view the Machine Gun Preacher just falls short.  It gets a decent 7/10.  I wont be watching it again.


  1. The title sounds a bit B movieish 2 me and the whole children mutilation thing doesnt sound to appealing either,fink i'l w8 for DVD sis, great review as per

  2. Not to be a know-it-all but the phrase is "pique my interest."

  3. Thanks Joel - it was a tough watch maybe on dvd it wont seem as bad. Def wouldn't recommend you and Lisa sit go to the cinema to see it!

    Anonymous: Thanks for reading and correcting!

    K :-)

  4. I recommend you DO go to the cinema to see it. The point is to raise awareness of the atrocities in Sudan by the terrorist-backed LRA. It was hard to squeeze 20 years of Sam's life into 2 hours, but the filmmakers chose to hit the high/low-lights. The first 20 minutes of the film brings Sam to tears because he remembers what a scumbag he was then. Butler does a good job of portraying Sam at his worst, his best, and his confused selves. Stay through the entire run of the credits to see the real Sam Childers and to hear a beautiful song by Chris Cornell called "The Keeper."

  5. I appreciate that they were never going to fit 20years of Sam's life into a two hour film but it is no excuse for disjointed storytelling and bad editing. The film-makers may have chosen the correct highs and lows but the passage of time and the overall flow of the film was very poor.

    Regardless of whether or not the audience are watching the good, bad or confused side of Sam if they cannot feel any emotion towards him then the film-makers have failed.

    Butler is fine as Sam but no more than that. He suited the machine gun aspect perfectly but when it came to the more emotionally dramatic scenes he was out of his depth.

    I sat through the end credits and I felt more emotion looking at pictures of the real Sam Childers than I did during the entire film. Butler did not do Sam justice.

    I don't rate Mark Forster as a director and I think Butler was miscast. I do think that with more talented people involved Machine Gun Preacher had the potential to be a much stronger film.

    There should be more public awareness over the atrocities in Sudan and the film will hopefully be a decent vehicle to drive that awareness forward but at the end of the day, purely from a film-making point of view, Machine Gun Preacher is no more than average.

    As Machine Gun Preacher is no more than an average film I wont recommend it and I know I will get nothing more out of a second viewing.

    The work and efforts of Sam Childers deserved better than what Machine Gun Preacher offered.

    I do agree that The Keeper is an amazing song!

    Thanks for commenting but I think we will have to agree to disagree.

    K :-)

  6. Thanks for your thoughts and I am sure that the movie was indeed impactful - and likely for all the right reasons even though it was pretty poorly done overall. However, there is a very inconvenient part of the story. Unfortunately, the entire film is built on the premise of a lie. Childers is certainly a real person but his claims about his exploits in Southern Sudan are largely unfounded and inaccurate. There is a great deal about this written by people with experience in the region:


  7. Thanks for the links Bryan I read them both and they were very interesting read.

    I don't know enough about Childers as a person to get into a debate with you - I can only offer an argument from a film point of view!

  8. Thanks Karina - I respect your stance on this and appreciate the honesty that you have only seen the movie. My only point in publishing what I have on the subject is that we need to be very careful about the values we espouse to the rest of the world and in supporting someone to go break the law elsewhere, just because he feels someone is guilty or not, when we certainly wouldn't want the same vigilante action here in the US is not the type of US I want to live in. Thanks for reading the blogs.