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Film review: Machine Gun Preacher


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The story of Sam Childers really needed to be made into a film, it reads like the plot to some fantastical Hollywood blockbuster.

Machine Gun PreacherThe subject matter itself is so inspiring and intense that this fact alone meant that Machine Gun Preacher could hardly fail to be worth a watch. But it is the sheer intensity of this real-life story that let’s this cinematic re-telling down. The Hollywood treatment doesn’t even begin to do the life of Sam Childers justice.

Once a drug-addicted, biker criminal, Childers found God and ended up in Uganda doing building work. It is during this he made a trip into Sudan and came face to face with the horrors that the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) were (and still are) orchestrating in the region. One of these is the kidnap of young child than they force to be child soldiers.

Childers builds a orphanage to house children orphaned by the fighting. Deciding this is not enough he begins armed raids to rescue kidnapped children from the hands of the LRA. To date he has saved the lives of thousands of children.

But just over two hours is not enough to effectively tell this story, it deserving its own television mini-series. Too much is made of Childers own emotional turmoil (so lots of lead Gerard Butler looking forlorn and distraught) and his faith, whilst ignoring any examination of the region and the situation there.

This cramming of narrative, fact and history into such a short space of time makes Machine Gun Preacher feel more like one big overblown montage sequence than a solid movie.

At times this is reduced to little more than a group of bad black men kidnapping and killing – who the LRA are and what they are fighting for is barely touched upon. Little rhyme or reason is presented.

Religion itself is treated as a glowing saviour, whilst it is not at all mentioned for the part it plays in the ideology of the LRA and the atrocities they commit.

Butler’s performance is better than would be expected on the evidence of previous work, but his stoney skills don’t quite to enough to properly convey a man whose personality is so dramatically torn between violence and kindness.

But for all its flaws Machine Gun Preacher is a movie well worth watching and one that tells a story that is perfect for the cinema. The problem is in this case it would appear that the life of Sam Childers is just too massive for the big screen.

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