johnlink ranks MACHINE GUN PREACHER (2011)

They may not be too many films with a title which conjures an image so different from the movie we get. While MACHINE GUN PREACHER may sound like a B-movie from the 70s, it is actually a based-on-a-true-story biopic about a born again Christian who becomes a savior to orphans in war-torn Sudan. And while, yes, he does pick up a machine gun and he does indeed preach, this is much more a dramatic thriller than an action film.


I watched MACHINE GUN PREACHER (2011) on 5.23.15. It was my first viewing of the film.

The story of Sam Childers is one which deserves to be on film. He was an ex-con who was violent, addicted to drugs, and on a path to nowhere. After a particularly brutal night he decides to try Jesus. He takes to the faith, truly becoming a changed man. He takes a trip down to Africa and then makes an excursion to the Sudan. He sees children murdered, imprisoned, and forced to fight for those who killed their families. He starts an orphanage in the Sudan and a church in Pennsylvania. He bounces between the two, trying to balance his family life with his second calling.

The movie of this feels like too truncated a version of Sam’s life, even if the movie does run in excess of two hours. The journey that Sam (played here by Gerard Butler) takes from druggie to successful businessman feels rushed. We see a sniper of a couple of moments, but if this was not ‘based-on-a-true-story’ it would not be convincing that a guy makes as drastic a change as he does just by what we see depicted in the movie.

What we do see, especially the stuff in Sudan, is as brutal as it is in the real world. We see a young kid forced to murder his mother in order to save his brother. We see the aftermath of entire villages, kids included, burned alive. While the movie certainly sensationalizes the gun battles Sam gets himself into, it also is careful to present a counter-argument that his violent response may not always be the best way to get results. Of course, the two strongest voices of this in the film are victimized. The first has his helicopter downed and the second is nearly killed before Sam saves her life using the violence she rails against.

The idea of Sam being saved by his faith is, in the same vein, not a clear cut theme of redemption. We see Sam beg for money for his church, even as he watches those he holds in high regard use their faith to live comfortably while pleading poverty. His preaching becomes more and more angry as he begins to yell at his congregation for not doing enough for their faith. As he becomes more lost in his quest he reverts back to the man he was, nearly losing his family in the process. When his mental state reaches its nadir, it is a boy telling Sam about a moment of extreme violence (and not Sam’s faith) which whips him back into shape. Indeed, the ending of the movie ends ambiguously. Same has solved some of his issues, as swept others aside, and has completely ignored still more. The movie, similarly, doesn’t give us clean answers on some of the character depicted.

The supporting cast is rather solid. Michelle Monaghan may be a bit too Hollywood as the ex-stripper wife of Sam, but she sells the part well regardless. Souleymane Sy Savane gives a very strong performance as Sam’s guide through Sudan, Deng. And Michael Shannon is nearly unrecognizable as a fellow criminal who tries to redeem himself, Donnie. In fact it is through the character of Donnie that the movie is at its most morally ambiguous. He suffers a tragedy which is most probably Sam’s fault. Sam internalizes this anger, but we are never really sure if he is held accountable for it by anyone. It’s another nuance to a character who is anything but the typical heroic figure.

MACHINE GUN PREACHER works, for the most part, despite a script which seems more interested in highlighting moments rather than reaching real depth. The actors manage to make it land regardless, but there probably could have been a much better telling of this story if done by some filmmakers with a little more ability to put together a narrative.




FINAL SCORE: 6 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on May 24, 2015.

2 Responses to “johnlink ranks MACHINE GUN PREACHER (2011)”

  1. Nice review.

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