Machine Gun Preacher Review
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For every war that’s raged on, for every group of people who have been oppressed, there are stories about saintly men and women who have selflessly given their time, their money, and even their lives to bring peace and justice. These saintly men and women are often portrayed in moving Hollywood dramas by A-list actors who give their subjects the kind of angelic glow that (they hope) award voters will appreciate.

Director Marc Forster’s Machine Gun Preacher is not one of those movies.

Machine Gun Preacher tells the story of Sam Childers (Gerard Butler), a tattooed ex-con from Pennsylvania who doesn’t fit the typical saintly rescue worker mold. After hitting rock bottom, Sam decides to clean up his life—and he starts by joining his wife, Lynn (Michelle Monaghan), in church.

  
 
Gradually (perhaps a bit too gradually for the film’s pacing), Sam turns his life around while building a successful construction business. But when a missionary visits his church, he’s moved to make another change. On a volunteer trip to Uganda, Sam is introduced to some of the orphans who have been displaced the war in the Sudan. Moved to help the children, he decides to return to build an orphanage. It’s a mission that soon becomes his passion—and some may say his obsession.

The title may sound like a hokey exploitation film, and the premise may sound like any other award season drama, but Machine Gun Preacher is neither. In fact, it’s anything but expected. This isn’t a movie about some rich, suburban goody-goody who goes out to Africa to pat a few orphaned kids on the head. It isn’t about a man who turns his life around and suddenly becomes faultless. Instead, it’s a gritty drama about a real man—a real, flawed human being—who feels called to do what he can to make a difference.

In telling Sam’s story, the film doesn’t make him look like a saint. Instead, it takes the good with the bad—the children he’s fighting to save with his rough past and his sometimes violent present. His work may be inspired by his faith, but he’s not the kind of guy to sit around and talk about peace; he’s the kind of guy to load his machine gun and fight for those who can’t protect themselves. In the process, he makes some bad decisions—and he often hurts the people who love him—but the film shows it all, without glossing over his behavior or even trying to justify it (though the real Sam does get a minute to speak for himself during the credits). And, in doing so, it offers a refreshingly honest approach to a familiar kind of story.

While Butler still needs to work on his American accent, he nevertheless does a wonderful job of bringing Sam to life on the screen. Sam is a complex character, and Butler makes him the kind of imposing figure that will grab your attention and hold it—whether you agree with his actions or not.

Machine Gun Preacher definitely isn’t the same old run-of-the-mill do-gooder drama. The story may take a bit too long to build—but, once it finally starts moving, this unlikely hero and his unexpected adventure will challenge you, move you, inspire you, and initiate plenty of debate on your way home from the theater.


DVD Review:
A true story based on a fascinating character, Machine Gun Preacher is the kind of movie that begs for some in-depth special features. Unfortunately, though, the film’s DVD release includes just one behind-the-scenes extra—and it’s not what you’d expect.

Instead of offering a closer look at the real Sam Childers, the disc’s one feature offers a closer look at the film’s score. In this surprisingly lengthy (14-minute) feature, the composers discuss the scoring process, explaining the reasoning behind some of their choices and showing examples from the film. It’s definitely an interesting extra—especially for those who love music—providing a glimpse of some of the unusual techniques and unexpected instruments used to score the film. But it’s longer than necessary—and, since it’s the disc’s only extra (aside from some trailers), it’s a bit of a disappointment.

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