Bad-ass biker Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) gets out of prison, bangs his wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan) in the parking lot and jumps feet-first back into a life of petty crime and drug addiction. Annoyed that Lynn has given up her lucrative stripper gig for a minimum wage job where she gets to keep her clothes on after finding God and becoming a born again Christian, Sam hooks up with his good buddy Donnie (Michael Shannon) and has what looks like a fine old time drinking, shooting smack and robbing drug dealers at gunpoint.
biker Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) gets out of prison, bangs his wife Lynn
(Michelle Monaghan) in the parking lot and jumps feet-first back into a life of
petty crime and drug addiction.
Annoyed that Lynn has given up her lucrative stripper gig for a minimum
wage job where she gets to keep her clothes on after finding God and becoming a
born again Christian, Sam hooks up with his good buddy Donnie (Michael Shannon)
and has what looks like a fine old time drinking, shooting smack and robbing
drug dealers at gunpoint.
However, when Sam almost kills a man during a frenzied
stabbing, he hits bottom and decides to turn his life around. Accompanying Lynn to church, Sam finds
both God and a purpose when he’s baptised and hears a visiting missionary talk
about his work in Africa.
Heading off to Uganda, Sam throws himself into building churches,
schools and hospitals until he meets laconic soldier Deng (Souleymane Sy Savane), a commander in the Sudan People’s Liberation
Army, who takes him north into Southern Sudan where the SPLA are locked in a
bloody civil war with the Lord’s Resistance Army led by psychotic warlord
Seeing first-hand the atrocities committed by Kony and the
LRA (murder, mutilation, abduction, forcing children into sexual slavery and to
become child soldiers) Sam resolves to build an orphanage in the heart of the
war zone, offering protection and a home for the hundreds of displaced children
of the conflict. But when the LRA
attack the orphanage, Sam is forced to defend it, falling back on his old
instincts, taking up the gun and getting all Old Testament on their asses…
Based on the nominally true story of the real Sam Childers, an ex-con and missionary
who built the largest orphanage in Southern Sudan and for the last 13 or so
years has been augmenting his humanitarian work with a little Biblical justice,
waging his own personal war on Kony’s LRA, Machine
Gun Preacher is a po-faced, heavy-handed exercise in liberal guilt and
Christian propaganda that really has no right to be as good as it is.
Almost entirely lacking in humour, it’s a sincere,
straight telling of Childers’ story of redemption featuring a towering
performance from Gerard Butler and
some blistering action scenes from Finding
Neverland and Quantum of Solace
director Forster. Gritty violence erupts suddenly, out of
nowhere, and the film doesn’t shy away from showing the resulting carnage; a
child is forced to club his own mother to death, a woman has her lips cut off,
children are staked out as bait, shot, maimed, burned alive. In one of the film’s tenser scenes,
Childers and his comrades come under fire from an enemy sniper, the execution
and devastating resolution echoing the close of Full Metal Jacket.
Butler has rarely been better. Never the best of actors, Butler is a graduate of the Sean Connery school of acting; whether
he’s playing an American Hell’s Angel building an orphanage in Africa or a 480
BC Spartan warrior or the Phantom of the Paris Opera, Gerry always sounds like
a guy you’d meet in a pub in Paisley.
But he has charisma to burn and here brings a sympathetic ambiguity to
Childers and his crusade, suggesting that like most addicts, Childers is merely
swapping one addiction for another – drugs and drink for God and charity work
which are then supplanted by his addiction to violence and death ultimately
turning inward as part of a self-destructive cycle as he flirts with
suicide. It’s in exploring this
darker, Conradian side of Childers character as he goes a bit Colonel Kurtz that Butler really
shines, making his dark night of the soul and eventual hard-won redemption all
the more affecting.
Preacher isn’t going to teach you anything you didn’t already know;
it’s unsubtle and you never really learn too much about the political
complexities of the conflict in Southern Sudan. But then the child soldiers fighting there probably don’t
know too much about it either, and while the self-appointed white saviour
helping out his poor, black brothers makes for uncomfortable viewing at times,
the story of Childers and the place of safety he carved out for children
forgotten by the West is a remarkable one that needs and deserves to be told as
brutally and bombastically as it is in Machine