Sunday, August 12, 2012

Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

Starring: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon

You know how Africa has a lot of problems? All those wars and child soldiers and everything? Ever wanted some guy to go around and kill all the bad guys with a machine gun and then make a movie about him with the guy from "300"? Then this is the movie for you! Or is it...?

Based on the true story of Sam Childers, Gerard Butler plays the protagonist, a drug addict just out of jail who does not seem too concerned about changing his ways. But after a night on the town goes terribly wrong, he decides to follow his wife's advice and becomes a born-again Christian. He starts to turn his life around by getting a job as a building contractor before eventually starting his own company. But things really start to change when he takes part in a Sudanese outreach program and becomes heavily involved in their cause. Wanting to build and run a church, he is constantly under attack by the rebels who are trying to either kill the children in the area or turn them into soldiers. Eventually he has enough, so he picks up a machine gun and starts wiping them out, determined to stop them at all cost.

This movie is one of those films that "is what it is." Despite its title, it is not really about religious faith, but it does highlight the moral issues surrounding the plight of African children. Childers represents these issues at various points in his mission and it becomes clear that he does not do well with the word "no." Despite his controversial ideas and actions, he keeps pushing forward until he gets his way. He gets very angry when a friend of his who shortchanges him on a check to give to his church while throwing a party at his multimillion dollar house. However, it also happens when his daughter asks to rent a limo for her formal, with her responding with the quote "you care more about those black babies than you do about me." It shows how people in the developed world can dismiss those in the developing world, but also that those who fight for a good cause can sometimes go overboard, however pure their intentions may be.

You have to give credit to Butler as he does a good job showing Childers in the various stages of his life. While it is not exactly an Oscar-worthy performance, for his own sake, it is good to see that he can actually act. Not that he did not do an amazing job in the classic that is "Gamer," (http://docuniverse.blogspot.com/2010/10/review-gamer-2009.html) but it just seemed like he got overshadowed by a masturbating fat guy and Dexter trying to pull off Frank Sinatra/Michael Jackson. Yes...classic...

There are probably two big flaws with this film. First of all, it does not have very good pasting, particularly in the beginning. It just bounces from Jail, Drugs, Redemption, Happy Life, Africa in really short order. I know that this first part is not really the main focus of the movie, but they could have slowed it down a little it by adding an extra scene here or there. Luckily it gets easier as the film goes on.

The second problem is that the film comes off as being really heavy-handed. This may seem a bit obvious since this is about genocide in Africa. I guess it feels especially so because it is very blunt; while it may talk about the big issues and how it effects people, there is no real subtly to it and at times it feels like it is being thrown in your face. But in a way, that is kind of the point. Childers is a very straight forward person and the style of the picture seems to put that upfront and center.

So that is that. Like always, I am judging the movie based on what I saw, not on what actually happened (they do show some photos of the real-life Childers during the end credits and it concludes with a video in which Childers poses a poignant, if rather disturbing question, to the camera). I cannot say that this movie is for everyone because of everything I just mentioned, but I personally liked it overall, and if it seems it suits you, I recommend it.

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