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Machine Gun Preacher

September 28, 2012

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“If a terrorist or murderer kidnapped somebody you loved and I could save them would it matter how I did it?”

Machine Gun Preacher is a labor of love that came together to tell an interesting story. The film is truly independent and tells the true story of a reformed convict who turns his attentions to rescuing children in Uganda. Critics have been unfair to the screenplay and heavy handed story telling. I understand their complaints but I found the low-budget film making strangely compelling. Gerard Butler’s character is wildly uneven as he goes through all of the tropes of the genre. The movie is paint by the numbers but the story isn’t. This is a man who did something with his life. He overcame a violent beginning and tried to make a difference. I love that the filmmakers somewhat succeeded in telling a story that deserved to be told.

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Gerard Butler plays Sam Childers.  A drug addled motorcycle gang member who would probably think SAMCRO was wimpy. His lifestyle took him down a dark path that lead to him becoming a born again Christian.  He teamed up with the Sudan Peoples liberation Army (SPLA) to fight the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). the LRA is a violent regime responsible for 400,000 deaths and the enslaving of 40,000 children. The atrocities are heart breaking and he fights the LRA with violence and a machine gun.  There is a moment in the film where Butler and the SPLA save some children from certain death slavery. As he leaves to go back home one of the kids does not want to leave his side. The kid becomes a mini bodyguard and eventual salvation. It is moments like this that make the film watchable. It shows what good came from his actions.

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The film draws a very clear line of excess and poverty. Life back in the states is odd to Butler as he watches people spend hundreds of dollars during excessive parties yet only donating $150 to the African cause. This culture clash inevitably and predictably forces Butler to become a jerk to his family and best friend.

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I can’t imagine the psychological toll that the atrocities of Uganda and his own violent past took on Sam Childers.  These experiences create an interesting character who almost becomes three dimensional despite the writing. However, the script doesn’t give Butler enough room to breath and instead makes it all too familiar. I do appreciate the normalcy of Michael Shannon as Butler’s best friend though.

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Machine Gun Preacher is the story of a broken man who does the best he can. I’m happy I watched this film because afterwards I read about Sam Childers and his mission in Uganda. The movie raises interesting questions (violence instead of diplomacy?) and manages to overcome the stock script to become a worthwhile film to watch. I do wish they would have made a documentary because the footage at the end proved to be more interesting than the film.

 

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