Machine Gun Preacher, Gerard Butler

<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>

Directed by Marc Forster. Starring Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon.

With a name like that you’d expect some cornball action film with lots of gratuitous violence and a B-movie plot. Yes there is violence but it’s backed up by a true story and lots of drama. This movie is a real surprise.

You honestly don’t know what to expect going in for this movie. The strange title and poster with Butler wielding a machine gun (you tend to overlook the African child on his other side) bring to mind some senseless, violent film, maybe post-apocalyptic, maybe sci-fi, who knows what, but we’re certain there will be lots of blood and gore. The film starts off with Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) being released from prison for some violent offense or another. He has sex with his wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan) in the car she picks him up in and then goes home and roughs her up for leaving her job as a stripper and ‘finding Jesus’. After continuing his wild ways till he realises he’s turning into a monster even he can’t handle he asks for help. And very soon he finds his faith too and turns a new leaf. Some may say this transformation happens all too quickly, but considering it is a real story, we can suspend disbelief and go with the flow. At least those of us who realise the difference between a true story and a fictional one can!

This Harley riding, gun toting, swearing mean-machine gets into construction and becomes a family man. He builds his own church and preaches in his own rousing way. And then Sam finds a calling on a chance trip to help out in Sudan. Civil conflict between that country’s forces and Uganda’s army leads to hundreds of orphaned children, some recruited as soldiers, others mercilessly burned alive. From helping them build sanctuaries to taking up arms against the monsters he faces, Sam’s journey is a startlingly extreme one. At first you wonder where this film is headed with its ‘hillbilly’ ex-con and his struggle for stability. Then as if divine intervention strikes, the film hits you straight in the heart. The devastation of an African state, the suffering that we were once used to seeing in UNICEF ads (the black baby with flies covering its malnourished frame) that is still all too real for them, and this one man’s struggle to make a difference when no one else will.

Michelle Monaghan’s supportive wife Lynn is the perfect balance to Gerard Butler’s sometimes volatile Sam, who must deal with his own demons and choose between his own family and his ‘adopted’ family. Gerard is a fine actor who usually doesn’t get credit for his performances perhaps because they’re overshadowed by the violent nature of his roles. You can see so many sides to the character he portrays: violent, uncouth, kind, caring, compassionate, angry, peaceful, affectionate and cold. Director Marc Forster has made no attempt to glorify this man, no attempt to over-dramatise the events, which may cause it to be a bit disjointed or jagged at times but that’s alright because you know it’s based on a real story.

The fact that Sam wields machine guns and bazooka launchers isn’t far-fetched either since he has a biker background and is the rebellious type. His relationship with daughter Paige is also beautifully dealt with. But at the end, you must admire this man, this cause that is still being fought while you and I enjoy our daily meals and movies.

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